MTPR

Odd Election Date Leads To Polling Place Confusion In Montana

May 1, 2017

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — About 50,000 registered voters in the May 25 special election for Montana's lone congressional seat will be casting votes in new polling places (see polling places here: http://bit.ly/2pzg0eS) because their regular places had previously scheduled events that could not be moved.

To put that into perspective, the number of people with closed polling places is equal to Montana's sixth largest county of voters in 2016.

Closed polling places were a big concern among county elections officials as they backed a state bill for a mail-ballot-only election. The bill failed over Republican concerns that people who vote in person, who trend conservative, would be disenfranchised.

County election officials had also asked Gov. Steve Bullock to schedule the special election for June 6, a date that would have had Montanans voting on a Tuesday in the first full week of June, the date Montana's primary elections are held.

Bullock chose May 25 because it was the earliest day possible for the special election and he wanted Montana's empty House seat filled.

"Jim Darcy School (in Helena) is having a big art fair, with art in the classrooms and kids going everywhere," Audrey Dufrechou, Lewis and Clark County's elections supervisor, told The Billings Gazette.

The school polling place serves 3,372 registered voters. Some of those voters will be voting absentee, but those who vote in person will travel eight miles to the county fairgrounds.

Dufrechou said she is concerned some voters won't make the trip, especially if they find out after driving to the school. She's mailing out notices about the change.

In Ravalli County, Elections Supervisor Regina Plettenberg is redirecting 5,000 voters away from Hamilton High School and over to the county fairgrounds. "They're having graduation. In fact they will be set up for rehearsal that day and graduation on Sunday," Plettenberg said.

Ravalli County is one of those rural Montana areas where most people don't vote absentee. About 48 percent of Ravalli County voters cast absentee ballots in 2016. People like to vote in person, Plettenberg said.

In Missoula County, elections administrator Rebecca Connors had eight polling places unavailable for multiple reasons, including graduation.

"We're doing a heavy media campaign," Connors said. "We're running ads in the Missoulian. We have two-color ads running this week. We'll have a direct mailing."

Giving voters a heads-up is complicated by a mail ballot school election that will be taking place May 2.

Democrat Rob Quist, Republican Greg Gianforte and Libertarian Mark Wicks are seeking the seat that became vacant in March when Ryan Zinke resigned to become U.S. Secretary of Interior.

Find your special election polling place here: http://bit.ly/2pzg0eS

© 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.