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Missoula County is still in dire need of election judges.

     It certainly shouldn’t be – not in light of the fact that the Elections Office has been highlighting the urgent need for more judges for years, not to mention the recent public outcry brought on by the news that the county would have to close some polling locations due to the lack of judges.

Nevertheless, Missoula County is currently facing the prospect of entering the upcoming election season at least 255 judges short of its 600-person target. So far, only 345 have signed on – and while they deserve to be commended for doing so, they also deserve to be supported by an adequate number of judges so they aren’t forced to work double shifts on election days. 

Serving as an election judge does require a two-year commitment, with up to five elections occurring each year. Candidates must put in three hours of training, and only registered voters in Missoula County age 18 and older can qualify. Given the nature of the job, judges are under a great deal of scrutiny and must adhere to strict legal requirements.

But it’s worth it. Serving as an election judge is not a high-paying job, but it is a paying job – one that earns $120 for a full election-day shift. Most important, in exchange for a minimal time commitment, it offers a chance to better understand your community and the elections process. It’s an opportunity to fulfill a valuable civic duty.

And signing up to become an election judge helps ensure that Missoula’s remaining polling places will be open for future elections.

Earlier this year, County Commissioners approved a plan to cut the number of polling places from 37 to 29. They did so as a last resort, with Missoula County Clerk and Recorder and Elections Administrator Vickie Zeier noting that while the county is responsible for ensuring the integrity of elections, it is not responsible for recruiting election judges.

More polls would have been closed but for the protests of some individuals and organizations. Those who protested the consolidation of polling places may want to keep in mind that some Montana cities now have only a single polling location each, and Missoula may very well join them some day if we can’t convince more people to sign up to be election judges.

The next election will arrive in a matter of months, May 4. Election judge training began on Monday, but it is not yet too late to sign up; training continues through March. 

More Missoulians must participate; political groups must redouble their efforts to recruit judges; University of Montana students in particular should be encouraged to become judges. After all, the poll at the University Center was one of those originally slated to be closed, but public protest convinced the county commissioners to keep it. Many students have flexible schedules that would easily accommodate election days and training. Many students, too, could probably use a little extra money. Perhaps their professors might even offer to give them extra credit.

To learn more about becoming an election judge, call 258-4751 or visit the Missoula County Elections office online at www.co.missoula.mt.us/election.

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