In the face of mounting criticism, Missoula election officials issued a revised plan to consolidate local polling places that will preserve the University of Montana and a downtown location, as well as three others that had been slated for elimination.
After Missoula County Clerk and Recorder Vickie Zeier proposed shuttering polling stations earlier this month, voter advocacy organizations, UM students and citizens at large came out in droves to voice alarm over a move they said would disenfranchise voters.
"This is a massive dismantling of the democratic infrastructure in our county," said John Bacino from Forward Montana during a Dec. 16 County Commissioner meeting.
In response to the backlash, Zeier tweaked the plan and released a new proposal Dec. 18.
"I was encouraged that so many electors provided thoughtful public comment and shared ideas about the initial proposal," she said in a statement.
The revised draft recommends keeping the University Center, Evaro Fire Station, Franklin School and the Petty Creek Fire Station open, while relocating the downtown courthouse polling station to the Missoula Public Library.
Bacino says the new plan demonstrates responsiveness on behalf of county officials and alleviates many of his organization's concerns.
"We were really impressed," he says.
Zeier had cited challenges recruiting election judges, increased absentee voting and the costs of acquiring ballot-counting technology as primary reasons to trim polling places. Some of those concerns are being alleviated after UM officials offered to staff an on-campus polling place and additional volunteers stepped forward to man ballot boxes. It also became clear last week that the county was not obligated to purchase additional ballot counting machines to accommodate individuals with disabilities, as had been previously stated.
For now, the hubbub appears to be dying down as the county works to craft a compromise.
"I think it's a good step in the right direction," Bacino says.
The Elections Advisory Committee meets Jan. 7 at 10:30 a.m. to discuss the new plan in Room 201 of the Courthouse Annex. The public is encouraged to attend. Comment may also be submitted before Jan. 7 to the County Commissioners Office: 258-4877, email@example.com, or 200 West Broadway, Missoula, MT 59802.