Archive for December 9th, 2009

by jhwygirl

Missoula County Commissioners are taking comments regarding their proposal to consolidate a number of precincts along with reducing a number of polling stations throughout the county. Here is a link to the spreadsheet summarizing the proposal, along with statistics on the number of voters affected.

I’m one of a pretty darn large number of people who weren’t very happy with the elections office move to the courthouse for this past election. One of the main reasons offered was the lack of space. I do remember the crazy ’08 and ’06 scene down there, so I can understanding the desire to seek out more space.

This consolidation of precincts and polling is driven much the same. There’s cost, the difficulty in finding and training poll workers (along with that cost), and because of some accessibility issues, they’ll be needing to buy additional machines because they need both more machines and a different or alternative type. This is being driven by a lawsuit. There’s also something about Tuesday’s being a big court day…and I think maybe it’s also the day before delivery for the sandwich cart downstairs, so they tend to run out of coffee which really gets everyone upset.

But seriously. Closing the courthouse? It’s gonna be hard to excuse the closing of the polling station that is in the heart of the city on a very very busy day at a location where anyone – including new residents and anyone who might not have caught the news that the election office has moved down to the fairgrounds – would logically head. I mean – it’s one thing to head down to the local school and find out that they’ve moved that to another school a few blocks away – but closing the courthouse?

I’m sorry. No reasonable justification for that. There’s some basics here that need to be what they need to be, and voting in the county courthouse is one of them. That courthouse should to serve as not only a polling place, but as a location where last minute voters can register.

Since space was an issue, and the larger part of the work is tallying and administering the thing – and because it went so well down at the fairgrounds – do all that stuff there, fine..but the voting and registration thing – please! – keep that at the courthouse.

The other controversial closure is the University Center at UM. An additional driver there is that in non-federal elections there is so little interest that sometimes only a handful or less of students had voted. The secrecy of the ballot isn’t preserved or something. Do people even care about that stuff anymore? I remember my grandma did….

Another issue is that the lack of voters in non-federal years doesn’t mean they can’t put up a polling place, or move it temporarily. State law doesn’t allow it. Once polling places have been set, they are static. That’s a state law issue that I’d think a lot of different towns around the state (Helena, Bozeman, Dillon, Billings, Butte) might want to work together to change.

Now here’s a location, too, where the County should be taking special consideration. It’s the UNIVERSITY. There’s STUDENTS. They’re FIRST TIME VOTERS in many cases. Providing them with ample opportunity and easy-access opportunity to vote should be a civics matter that Missoula County should do all it can to foster with first-time voters.

And that’s kinda my thoughts on the proposal to close the UC. For me, it’s a civic obligation there that needs to be met for good reason.

There’s plenty of other closures there that residents may be concerned with. In town, it might mean a bit of a longer walk. In the county, though, I imagine that most people are in their cars to get to their polling place anyways, and for most of those people it won’t be anything more than a little out of the way on the way to work or on the way home or for the rest, it’ll be (for some) a bit of a longer drive.

The Board of County Commissioners is taking comment via email (, and at public hearing next Wednesday, December 16th at 1:30 p.m. in Room 201 of the Missoula County Courthouse. You can also visit the main page of the Elections office for additional information.

Solar parking meters?

by Pete Talbot

Downtown parking is mundane to many, unless you happen to work, shop and visit downtown Missoula. It’s a hot topic right now, over at Missoulagov.listserve (subscribe or visit the archives).

The short version: apparently the downtown business improvement district and, I assume, the parking commission are considering parking kiosks (one or two per block) to replace those old, analog meters. Or maybe they’ll be solar powered meters you can pay for via cell phone. Or just street signs that indicate two-hour, thirty-minute or quick-stop zones. Or meters you can plug your electric car into. Lots of ideas being bandied about.

My main concern is they’re user friendly and cheap, and they don’t discourage people from coming downtown. Either that or meters should be placed in the Walmart, Costco, Best Buy and Home Depot parking lots. Fair is fair.

I just hope this isn’t the first step toward increasing rates and fines. The cost of parking downtown should cover some area maintenance and meter patrols (there needs to be ticketing for on-street parking hogs) and a portion of the proceeds could go toward encouraging bus, bike and other forms of alternative transportation. But downtown parking shouldn’t be a cash cow for the city coffers.

There are a ton of cool suggestions, comments and criticisms of downtown parking on the listserve thread — Scott (Mr. Downtown) Sproull adds a lengthly list of insights — it’s a must read for downtown aficionados.

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