Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Want to serve democracy (and maybe even get paid doing it?) Want to become more involved in the electoral process without being tied to a candidate or party? Want to make a personal connection with voters without the stress of running for office? Read on.

For the last four years, I’ve served on an elections advisory committee for Missoula County. Our clerk and recorder (and elections supervisor) Vickie Zeier has been a statewide leader in election management and has shared the challenges, successes and frustrations with new laws and technologies.

From our most recent meeting, it seems obvious to me that Montana faces a true crisis of democracy, at least in its larger counties.

High-tech vote counters? No. They deserve continued oversight but, as long as they still require marked paper ballots to read, there always will be physical evidence of how people voted.

Lack of candidates? Maybe for low-level local positions. But even those can be filled by write-in if nothing else. Meanwhile, the jobs that really mean something always will have people wanting to fill them.

No voters? Apathy may be alive and well among many eligible citizens but mail-in ballots and absentee voting are drawing more, not less, people to elections.

The real question may be: What if they held an election and nobody was at the polling place to take your vote? That’s a crisis that is not far from reality. In Missoula County alone, Zeier believe she’ll need some 650 people to serve as polling place managers and workers. She’s not even close to having that many. Expand Missoula’s situation into Montana’s other urban counties (and maybe even some more rural ones) and there’s a need for thousands of people to staff polling place doors and tables.

And not just any people. Elections officers need workers with the same qualities as political candidates–energetic, smart, communicative, politically engaged, willing to spend long days serving the public and sacrifice even more of their personal time to prepare. Plus, these people have to leave their personal ideology at the door.

Make no mistake–these jobs involve more than just gathering at the polling place and casually signing in your neighbors as they walk in vote. Between laws on voter ID, late (and same day) registration, provisional ballots and voting machines for the disabled, today’s poll workers have a lot more on their plates than they did just a few years ago.

Quite honestly, election workers have historically been a gray-haired lot. If polling place elections are to continue, Montana needs a new "Election Corps" of younger people willing to serve democracy and bring their energy, passion and techno-friendly 21st century vibe to the polling place. The 2006 general election and the number of young faces at this year’s Republican caucuses tell me that more young people are engaging in the electoral process.

Take the next step. Don’t just participate in the process. Become part of it.


Slab Marble said...

I found some old film of polling places in Billings!

Q2 Vault: Election Day

Rare footage of the election process in Billings from the 1960's.

It is near the bottom of the page

Anonymous said...

Maybe if the pay were in the vicinity of $25.00 to $40.00 per hour some qualified workers could be found.
Otherwise, let's ALL just vote by absentee ballot.

friday morning sports said...

I could understand that we need to begin hiring younger people to take over "running" the polls so that people can continue to vote on site. I have noticed, as Ian mentioned, that it is the "gray haired" group that typically occupy this position and there comes a time when they can't or won't do it anymore. But as the anonymous poster suggested unless it is worth their while, the younger generation will be hesitant to take time out of their schedules to do so. ALSO THANKS FOR THE OLD FOOTAGE SLAB!!! GOOD STUFF.