Planning ahead to 2014

Locally, Election Day 2012 was punctuated by voter frustration. Election headquarters at the Missoula County Fairgrounds received the largest rush of same-day voter registrants in the state—just under 2,000, according to the Missoula County Elections Office. The turnout translated to long lines, mass confusion and waits of up to three hours.

Elections supervisor Vickie Zeier acknowledges the county has a lot to consider in improving the system, but she told the county election committee last week that there's another factor to keep in mind: statewide redistricting. A revision of the legislative district map occurs by law every 10 years, and will inevitably lead to confusion during the next countywide general election in 2014.

"People's polling places are going to change," Zeier said, adding that the county is working to avoid shutting down any existing locations.

Zeier is currently tweaking address ranges for all Missoula County precincts. The revisions, which must be adopted by March 29, will likely change polling locations for scores of voters as legislative district lines migrate. Zeier said her office will rely on traditional mailers to inform voters of those changes, as well as social media.

"It's going to be a lot of mailings, a lot of media help, and I don't want to do too much of it too far in advance," Zeier said. "But we do think we need to start now, saying, 'This is happening.'"

One tool Zeier hopes will alleviate some of the confusion is the Montana Secretary of State's interactive website, My Voter Page, which wasn't around during the last redistricting in 2003. In what seemed like a nudge to state officials, Zeier said she hopes a similar smartphone app will be available for voters before next year's election.

Zeier anticipates there will be people showing up to the wrong polling stations in 2014 despite the county's efforts. As for the fairgrounds, Zeier has a long list of potential fixes: more staff, better traffic signs and separate lines for same-day registrants. The fairgrounds is simply a bad location for election headquarters, Zeier said, citing a lack of restroom facilities and warm space to "store voters."

Ultimately, Zeier says only there's only one sure-fire way to alleviate most problems before November 2014 hits: Register to vote—and double check that status—prior to Election Day.

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