Signature gatherers get in heated exchanges at Missoula polling places

2010-06-08T22:00:00Z 2014-10-08T17:34:22Z Signature gatherers get in heated exchanges at Missoula polling placesBy CHELSI MOY of the Missoulian missoulian.com
June 08, 2010 10:00 pm  • 

Election Day was not without excitement at some polling places in Missoula.

A sign showing a fetus - held by people gathering signatures for Constitutional Initiative 102 - upset some voters, parents and teachers at schools where voting took place on Tuesday.

In other polling places around town, folks opposing several proposed ballot initiatives campaigned alongside signature gatherers, which caused heated confrontations.

Missoula County sheriff's deputies responded to three elementary schools because of the ruckus.

Six deputies dressed in civilian clothes, so as to keep a low profile, patrolled the polling places in Missoula County throughout the day at the request of Missoula County Clerk and Recorder Vickie Zeier - to "keep civility," she said.

Any time there are proposed ballot initiatives that are controversial in nature, there's always a potential for confrontation, Zeier said.

Early on Tuesday, signature gatherers outside of Lowell School were asked by school administrators to stand across the street, but were later told they could remain on school grounds.

County Commissioner Jean Curtiss, managing the polling place, said a voter was taken aback by a poster for CI-102, which says "personhood" begins at conception.

The Missoula County Public Schools District sent an e-mail to all the schools regarding the distance people who are electioneering can stand relative to a polling location. But that didn't apply to the signature gatherers because their issues were not on Tuesday's ballot.

***

In fact, in some cases, signature gatherers set up shop inside polling locations.

The interactions were polite, but Kandi Matthew-Jenkins, who was gathering signatures for CI-102 at Lowell, called the request "outrageous." In at least three years of gathering signatures at polling places, Matthew-Jenkins had never has been asked to leave.

The misunderstanding was later cleared up by Deputy Missoula County Attorney Dori Brownlow when she issued a response that said signature gatherers were allowed to stand on public property as long as they didn't disrupt classwork.

Many school principals, including Hawthorne School Principal Steve McHugh, asked that CI-102 supporters not display posters or T-shirts depicting a fetus.

"We didn't want the kids to have to deal with that," he said. "You have the right to be here. It is a public place, but it's also held in the public trust."

Meanwhile, at Russell Elementary School, signature gatherers in support of Initiative 161 sat next to outfitters who opposed the very same measure. I-161 would take away guaranteed out-of-state licenses for hunting outfitters.

"We're fighting for our jobs," said Jeff Smith, co-owner of Bullseye Outfitting in Trout Creek.

Smith encouraged voters leaving the polling place to look into the facts before signing the I-161 petition, or asked if they would consider scratching their name off the petition they had just signed.

Several feet away, Nik Chaphalkar and Nikki James were gathering signatures for I-161 and didn't expect such opposition. After all, they were hired through Express Personnel for the day.

"It's important for voters to hear both sides," said James, who encouraged people to sign the petition to get the issue on the ballot and then let the voters decide.

Reporter Keila Szpaller contributed to this story.

Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at chelsi.moy@missoulian.com.

 

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