Our county clerk and recorder, an official elected by the voters of Missoula County, performs the duties of our election administrator. Recently, news spread that the Missoula County commissioners are considering removing the work of administering our elections from our clerk and recorder and appointing an election administrator to run our elections. We are writing to urge our county commission to reconsider this idea and keep our elections under the office and supervision of our elected county clerk and recorder.
Across our country there are ongoing attempts to make it harder to register and vote. Efforts are being made to restrict which types of identification can be used at the polls, limit who can assist you to register to vote, and eliminate days available for people to vote. For these reasons, now more than ever, we need an election administrator who is an advocate for voters. This can only be accomplished by maintaining the accountability of this position to the voters of our county through an election.
We are fortunate in Missoula to have an election administrator who is responsive to the people of our county. When there was a proposal to close down polling locations and Missoulians spoke against it, our election administrator scaled back these plans. When members of the state legislature attempted to pass new laws to limit our voting rights, our election administrator stood with her constituents (even though it would make her job more difficult) against this voter suppression legislation.
This post being elected has resulted in a clear level of responsiveness between Missoula County voters and their election administrator. However, an appointed administrator would have no obligation to respond to the will of the people of Missoula. This raises a high level of concern that the voices of Missoula voters could fall on deaf ears if our election administrator is not directly accountable to the voters through the election process. In addition, a 2010 University of Wisconsin study showed that counties with elected election administrators saw higher voter turnout than those with appointed administrators.
Some claim that making the election administrator an appointed position will make the post more “nonpartisan.” While appointed administrators would not have an “R” or “D” after their name, they would be appointed by a partisan county commission, which ensures the same outcome. In our view, it is not important that the person serving as our election administrator belongs to one party or another, simply that they are chosen by the voters of Missoula County.
Making our election administrator an appointed position appears to be a reaction to our current election administrator moving to a new post in county government. We acknowledge that there will be a learning curve for our new county clerk and recorder/election administrator, but that is true with all elected positions. In Missoula County we elect a sheriff who is in charge of the rule of law and providing for public safety and we elect a county attorney who is charged with prosecuting criminals. It only makes sense that the person charged with upholding our democracy, the very foundation of our country, should be elected as well.
Missoula County residents deserve an election administrator who is accountable to them. For this reason, we ask our county commissioners to keep our elections within the office of the county clerk and recorder, our elected official.
This opinion is signed by the following Missoula-area legislators: Rep. Bryce Bennett, House District 92; Rep. Doug Coffin, HD 93; Rep. Ellie Hill, HD 94; Rep. Tom Steenberg, HD 95; Rep. Carolyn Squires, HD 96; Rep. Todd Mowbray, HD 97; Rep. Andrew Person, HD 98; Rep. Kimberly Dudik, HD 99; Sen. Sue Malek, Senate District 46; Sen. Dick Barrett, SD 47; Sen. Tom Facey, SD 48; and Sen. Cliff Larsen, SD 50.