County calls for help

Missoula County Clerk and Recorder Vickie Zeier isn't totally stressed out—yet.

"I will be probably by the end of next week if we haven't recruited 600 [election] judges," says Zeier, who is responsible for finding staff to oversee Election Day operations.

So far, the effort isn't going so well. As of Tuesday morning, the county was roughly 200 people short of what will be required to ensure smooth operations through election season. That slow progress prompted Zeier to issue a call for help.

"We started sending out press releases and reaching folks and saying, 'We're in trouble," Zeier says.

Finding enough election judges has proven historically difficult for the county. It was a lack of judges, in part, that prompted Zeier to close several polling places last December. The proposal was met with harsh criticism from voter advocates, forcing the county to trim just eight locations rather than the 13 initially proposed. Throughout the debate, voter advocates promised to help staff polling places to ease the county's concerns.

Since then, Zeier says some new judges have come forward. But, overall, the consolidation discussion seems to have worked against her.

"I do think maybe some of that backfired," Zeier says. "Maybe it's just that people saw closure of polling places as they don't need as many judges. And that's not the case."

If she can't cobble together sufficient staff, voters heading off to ballot boxes Nov. 2 will experience results first hand.

"The lines would be long for voters," she says. "And I don't want that to happen. I want it to be an efficient process."

Those interested in becoming an election judge are invited to sign up for training sessions scheduled from March 8 to March 24 (visit www.co.missoula.mt.us for details). Judges working a full Election Day shift—about 14 hours—receive $120 in addition to a $30 training stipend.

"Honestly, I think a lot of people would enjoy seeing what happens behind the scenes, how the democracy works," Zeier says. "Hopefully that will make people want to volunteer."

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