Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Population changes, security needs and shifting trends in how people vote could see Missoula County adopt a number of changes ahead of the 2024 election cycle, including the consolidation of polling places and a subtle shift in commissioner districts.

Missoula County elections supervisor Bradley Seaman said precinct boundaries could also change. The state conducts its redistricting process after the Census, and counties follow by dividing each House district into precincts.

County districts are also updated after the Census.

“The law states that commissioner districts must be equal in population and equal in size as possible,” said Seaman. “This plan keeps our populations balanced incredibly well.”

As proposed, commissioner districts will each include roughly 39,300 people. At the precinct level, the population is kept at around 2,500 voters.

“But the most common question people ask is where do I go to vote,” Seaman said. “We want to make that clear for our voters.”

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Over the last 10 years, a number of trends have altered the election process. Among them, most voters now prefer to vote by mail rather than stopping at a polling place.

Those polling places that remain open could move away from schools, which have security concerns that didn't exist a decade ago, Seaman said.

“We've seen a change in the way voters chose to vote,” said Seaman. “With the increase of voters who vote by mail, the utilization of polling places has gone down. Our wait time has gone down, but it also means we have staff in there waiting for voters to serve.”

In 2022, the county offered 27 polling locations. But due to a drop in use and security concerns, they plan to consolidate 10 polling places, Seaman said.

Among them, Rattlesnake Elementary will move to the library, and both the Senior Center and Paxson School will move to the University of Montana. Others will move as well under the proposal.

“School security has changed and elections require open access,” Seaman said. “We worked hard to balance that between ADA access, security at schools, and providing a good service to voters.”

Commissioners will consider the changes at a future meeting. The Elections Office looks to have the changes in place ahead of the 2024 election cycle.

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