County Commission Meets on Polling Closures

by jhwygirl

Missoula County Commissioners will be meeting Wednesday at 10:30 a.m, in room 201 at the County Courthouse to further discuss the revisions to the polling closure and precinct consolidation proposal.

As some may recall, the Missoula Board of County Commission met December 16th to a packed hearing of people concerned about the proposal to not only consolidate precincts, but to consolidate and close polling stations. Quite a number of state legislators attended, as I recall – Michele Reinhardt, Ron Erickson, Carol Squires, Dick Barrett (to name a few), voicing their concerns along with about 80 others.

48 hours later there was a new plan. The main page at the County’s Election webpage has both proposals, and is indicating that it will take comment through January 7.

In all fairness, it’s been posted (as indicated) since the Friday before Christmas, so I’m sorry I missed this (holidays and all).

Missoula County Democrats have submitted public comment to the county’s proposal, calling for a more thoughful analysis of what to close by looking at things like the demographics and public transportation and ADA accessibility.

Makes sense to me.

December 28, 2009

Commissioners Carey, Curtiss and Landquist and Clerk and Recorder Zeier,

Voting is a fundamental democratic right and you are the custodians of that right. The importance of accessible and open elections requires a higher level of scrutiny for decisions that change voting procedures than for other changes in county policy. We appreciate your recognition of this with the public hearing scheduled in December and the plan revised in response to public comment. We have some remaining questions, relevant to both the consolidations proposed this year and to any future moves toward all mail-in ballots for federal elections.

Any plan to close polling places should evaluate whose polling places are being closed. Closures prompted by the amount of floor space available or the quality of ADA facilities may—quite apart from whatever prompted them—disproportionally affect segments of the electorate already at a disadvantage. Specifically, we request mapping the poll closures against income and age data from the census as well as the Urban Fringe Development Area’s transportation suitability map. If data is available on the distribution of households headed by a single parent, this is another factor that should be mapped against proposed closures.

We need to be sure changes in election procedures don’t make voting more difficult for people who already have it rough and that we don’t push services into areas of the county where fewer people will be able to access them. The only way to do that is to be thorough in our analysis, incorporating available demographic data in service of informed and deliberate decision-making.

Because the decision to close polling places is really a series of decisions to close a number of polling places, an itemized list of savings by closure should also be part of molding the proposals into a plan. The initial proposal considered at the public hearing, and the revised proposal since released, each suggest an overall savings figure. We request a spreadsheet detailing the cost of keeping open each one of the polling places slated for closure, allocating the additional expenses between judges, ballot printing and other requirements. How much we save for the access we’re giving up ought to be clear.

Administering elections is not just any administrative task. We ask you to perform your duty by diligently considering those whose ability to give consent to be governed might be diminished by changing the way elections are conducted. Only then can we know whether the monetary savings expected are worth the potential costs.

Respectfully,

Missoula County Democrats Executive Board

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