County Seeking to Consolidate Precincts – Proposal Includes Eliminating Courthouse & University Polling Stations

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.

  1. Yep, it all boils down to whether you want to make it harder to vote. If so, then the smart tactic is look at the likely vote of the people in that area – its their votes that you are suppressing.

    I find the economics of poll officials interesting – to me, making $100 for a day helping with the elections sounds great. But, if that’s not sufficient incentive for people to give of their labor, then maybe you could make it more enticing … pay them more, give them more flexibility in hours, or offer them health insurance for the day?

  2. Jim Lang

    Not having a polling place at the courthouse makes absolutely no sense to me. That’s where I have voted in the majority of elections since I moved to the area 13 years ago.

  3. problembear

    when elected officials start to forget who they work for, it is time for the boss to step in. closing the county courthouse on the night of an election is possibly the most ridiculous idea i have ever heard of.

  4. JC

    “One of the main reasons offered was the lack of space.”

    Do I detect a bit of animosity from our Commissioners against the electorate for failing to approve the 911/sheriff’s departments new $20 million digs in a recent bond poll?

    Or is this just their way of trying to get people’s attention for when they float the next bond?

    In any case, being able to vote at the County Courthouse should be #1 on the list of things people do in a representative democracy. No matter how uncomfortable it may be.

    Otherwise, it’s next stop after voting at the fairgrounds, may be just put up a toll/poll on reserve street as the electorate heads on out to Walmart.

  5. goof houlihan

    Mail ballot elections.

  6. Ted

    This rant is going to sound like I’m bursting a vein, and I honestly apologize for the tone in advance, but . . .

    If there was ever a tempest in a tea pot, this is it. The comments here are displaying unjustified, in fact weird paranoia and providing no evidence to back up hysterical proclamations. It’s disturbing. There is no “voter suppression,” the opposite in fact. When do Missoulians have to take some responsibility for getting their behinds to the voting place? You act like this is Ohio or Florida, and you’re a bunch of African Americans being target by the Republicans. Get over your martyr complex, please! It’s unattractive!

    Missoula County, and especially Vicki and Debbi, works ridiculously hard with extremely limited resources to get a lazy electorate to show up and vote. You practically have to take them by the hand and drag them to the voting place. Get involved, if you care so much. Work a polling place, get your friends to work a polling place, get your friends friends to work a polling place. In fact, if you learned the system you might actually be able to contribute constructive criticism. Poll place workers are putting in 12 to 16 hour days because there are not enough volunteers! It is like pulling teeth to get the apathetic, entitled Missoulians to show up and help!

    You think Vicki has a blank check to run the elections? Give me a break. Instead of bitching and making vague statements about paying people more to work the polling places – that would be wonderful,BTW – lobby the legislature to provide the money she needs to do her job, because they don’t. Or maybe you have a plan in mind to come up with adequate funding? By all means, share it with me. I’d love to know. Missoula County doesn’t have the money! I mean, Goddess forbid we should pay the taxes necessary to run our democracy! In addition, get the apathetic lazy public to show up, for Goddess sake, and not at the last minute – that overwhelms the already stressed out staffers! And best of all, if you wan’t high voter turn out: mail in ballots for our rural, wintry state!

    Missoula County has been at the fore-front to change Montana to mail in ballots. They offered to be the pilot project. Is this part of their satanic scheme to disenfranchise voters, especially, gasp, college kids, so they can, I don’t know, what, block the vote for liberals, I mean come on, we only have three liberal County Commissioners, all but one of our state legislative delegation is Democrats, we vote for Tester and Obama in droves, what is your point? Anyway, it was the Dems in our legislature that helped quash it, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

    Not voting at the court house? Big deal. So what if you’ve voted there for thirteen years or a hundred years? There is little parking for one thing, not enough space, and it’s not the most accessible place in the world for our disabled brothers and sisters. And down town isn’t exactly central to most Missoulians. In fact, keeping voting there in a way is “suppressing the vote,” especially same day voting. Why in the hell would they spend energy moving the process to the Fair Grounds if it didn’t make sense? The Fair Grounds are much more centralized and have plenty of parking and space for the staffers to do their jobs! In fact, I noticed a lot of people there during the fair. Heck, maybe we should move the fair to the Courthouse!

    The U of M precinct has maybe four people show up to vote, except during a presidential election. What’s the point of that? Consolidating it six blocks away is not voter suppression. If college kids can make it downtown to drink every night they can make it six blocks away to vote! Hell, who knows how far they travel to score some weed!

    And what do you propose exactly? When would you be satisfied? Should we double the number of polling places? Triple? Maybe have one on every block, I mean jeebus, we don’t want to inconvenience anyone when it comes to participating in their damn democracy!

    Missoula County do this, Missoula County do that, wah! Grow up!

    Come on 4&20, you’re breaking my heart. It’s just to easy to sit back and lob bombs from the electronic bunker. GET INVOLVED!

    • I have never had anything but good words to say for the Elections Office – both the staff and Ms. Zeier – and a number of posts here reflect both that and an understanding of the massive undertaking she completes with each election.

      Ms. Zeier has asked us to help in recruiting election volunteers, and we have done that.

      Your assumption that me or the readers here are sitting around doing nothing on election day and the weeks leading up to it is just that – an assumption. Since 2006 (for me, at least) I have been involved in any number of GetOutTheVote initiatives, working to increase absentee (mail-in) voting registration and working to get those ballots returned early – which is also a goal of the elections office.

      I also personally register voters and round up ballots to get them in early – outside of any number of more organized efforts.

      Forgive me – but the County going from planning to consolidate precincts (which they have been planning to do for some time, and it has been well know) is one thing. It has little to no actual affect on a voter. Few know their precinct anyway. To – a week ago today – wheel out a proposal (notice that I won’t use the word “plan”) closing polling places without any public input into the process DOESN’T ALLOW ME TO GET INVOLVED.

      I could say that it’s a hell of a process, but it isn’t a frickin’ process at all. Frankly, even now, they’re barely offering any analysis of how they decided to do what they’re proposing to do. There’s spreadsheets, but that isn’t analysis.

      • goof houlihan

        It’s called representative democracy. You voted for a representative who you trusted to handle the election process. That’s exactly where you were involved.

        Not every decision by government requires three charettes and a group hug.

        • I would agree, goof, certainly that every decision by government does not require three charettes and a group hug.

          And yes, certainly we are a representative democracy. All elected officials should remember that. We aren’t an elected monarchy.

          The impacts of these decisions will be borne heavily by the youth and lower-income neighborhoods…and just who do the Democrat electeds go to to help get them elected?

          So yeah – it’s a representative democracy. Everyone should remember that, and that means I have a right to complain to my elected officials.

          I know some of them would like it best if we would all pull that lever and then not bother with local matters until the next election, but I’m of the school of thought that pulling the lever is only the beginning.

          We’d have far fewer revolutions around here if everyone held their elected accountable 24/7/365 instead of just the year before they’re up for re-election.

    • Jim Lang

      I, too, applaud the work done by those in the elections office. It’s hard for me to understand how anything said here could reasonably be perceived as a criticism of them as workers or as persons. People can disagree about policies and decisions and that doesn’t mean it is some kind of knock against those who proposed the policy – it’s just a simple disagreement, there is no reason to make things personal.

      Frankly I find the idea that the fairgrounds is more central than downtown to be bizarre. But please don’t take my disagreement with you personally.

  7. problembear

    three things ted, then i will duck out for some pre-tuba christmas shenanigans at the mall. first- lighten up. j-girl sounds reasonable. you sound way overly defensive. makes me wonder whose back is being scratched here- the voters or the bureaucrats….

    two- it is the county that is proposing radical changes here that will alter the way things have been done for decades. might be ok- might not. but j-girl is right that it deserves some airing in public before bureacrats (no matter how hard working or well- intentioned) just go off half cocked here on a pretty radical departure from the norm.

    three. i give you great points for apologizing in advance here and i agree that way more of us need to get involved by being elections judges and volunteers for this great cause. you were doing good here until you got personal and overly defensive. that’s all i got.

    • goof houlihan

      Vicki Zeier isn’t a bureaucrat, she’s an elected official and a damn good one. You could vote her out of office if you’re so pitifully damaged, but, until then, she’s the person you’ve put in charge of the elections system.

      Ted’s a little tough, but come on, the whole “voter suppression” conspiracy has been brought up here more than once, Mark T comes to mind immediately, and not that long ago. I’ve mocked it more than once myself.

  8. I don’t understand that spreadsheet. It is not self-explanatory. Do they mean to consolidate all precincts of the same color into one?

    From recent experience I know they could probably consolidate two or three existing precincts at one voting table, though the poll books might get messy.

    • The spread sheet isn’t explanatory and what they’ve offered doesn’t explain anything, really. It offers information, but no rhyme-or-reason to how they got to where they proposed what they proposed.

      You get at the heart of another thing, too – when they consolidate precincts, they create longer lines for checking in with the judge. It’s only one book. You can only work one book so fast. I mean, you can divide it up A-M, N-Z, but regardless, you’re adding more voters.

      I get that they want to save cash – and they’re saying they need to eliminate the number of judges to save that cash – but I think what we’re going to end up with, if they close polling stations, too, is very very long lines on election day.

      Isn’t there someway else to save $19,000 a year? Cheaper handsoap in the bathrooms? I mean, really.

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