Designated lines, more trained staff, better traffic control and a partial move back downtown are among the ideas in the works to address Election Day issues in Missoula County.
Long lines and voter confusion at election headquarters at the county fairgrounds last November were topmost on elections supervisor Vickie Zeier’s to-do list Friday when she met with the county’s election advisory committee.
There are 14 months until the next countywide general ballot election, so there’s time to work out details. But 2014 also marks the year once-a-decade redistricting kicks in, which means a shuffling of legislative districts by the state and wholesale changes at the precinct level by the county.
The new districts, said Zeier, “are significantly different for Missoula County compared to what they were for 2003 to 2013.”
Nov. 6, 2012, was a chaotic day at the fairgrounds. Nearly 1,200 people lined up to register and vote in the federal general election, the largest same-day count in the state. Some 275 of them hadn’t reached the door of the voting headquarters when the polls closed at 8 p.m., though all eventually made it through the door.
Zeier said the number of clerks hired and trained for Election Day more than doubled from seven in the 2008 general election to 15 in 2012. An information clerk also was added for the onslaught, but she was still understaffed, she said.
That wasn’t for a lack of trying. Her office was shooting for 20 clerks, but it’s hard to find people with the skills required to process late registration who are interested in working just six weeks every other year.
Next time, there’ll be better signage and more people shepherding both vehicle and foot traffic around the fairgrounds, she said.
Zeier said she has “heartburn” about designating lines at election headquarters for fear of adding to the confusion, “but it may be something we have to do.”
Separate lines might be designated for the quicker process of handling those with undeliverable and rejected ballots, and the more time-intensive processes of new registration and registrants changing counties or precincts.
While the fairgrounds has proven a better location than the county courthouse for Election Day activities in terms of space and parking, Zeier already has made the decision to move ballot receipting and reconciliation to the county’s administration building downtown in 2014.
As absentee voting increases – from just over 40 percent in 2008 to 63 percent in 2013 –
“it’s getting to a point where we’re needing more and different space,” Zeier said.
The best cure for the Election Day blues is preventive.
“We need to encourage people to register before Election Day using media, outreach with social media, etc.,” Zeier told her advisers. “I need all of your help in this area.”
Waits were never more than 15 to 20 minutes for those who registered late in the period before Election Day, she said.
Montana’s five-person Districting and Apportionment Commission has completed its work and filed its redistricting plan with the secretary of state on Feb. 12. Now it’s up to the counties to adopt new precinct boundaries within the new districts.
Zeier has met with Missoula County commissioners to discuss a plan. She said she’ll try to divide each house district into three or four precincts, preferably four. Commissioners must have adopted new precinct boundaries by March 29, and have set a public hearing for two days before that.
The old legislative districts were drawn up to encompass both urban and rural areas.
That wasn’t a priority for the commission this time, Zeier said. For instance, House District 100 in Missoula County is currently Champ Edmunds’ district and extends to Lolo and into Petty Creek on the far west edge of the county.
“It’s now smack dab in the middle of town,” Zeier said, adding the new HD 100 affects 13 precincts.
There’ll be three holdovers in the state Senate from Missoula County in 2014. Sue Malek will remain in Senate District 46 and represent House Districts 91 and 92. Dick Barrett moves from SD 47 to SD 49 (HD 89 and 90). Cliff Larsen goes from SD 50 to SD 47 (HD 93 and 94; HD 93 lies entirely in Lake County).
To see the new redistricting maps, go to http://1.usa.gov/12hLxU9.