Missoula County officials are downplaying concerns that President Trump’s comments urging supporters to “closely watch” polling places will lead to any problems in next month’s election.
Trump’s comments, made last week, led some to express fear of possible voter intimidation. Two Missoula County Democrats brought their concerns to Mayor John Engen, who in turn passed them on to county commissioners this week.
“They came to me with some concerns with what the president may have said around poll watching and defending polling places,” Engen said. “I’m not under the impression there will be any significant issues.”
Commissioners said they’ve heard no concerns around polling place security.
“Poll watchers are common here,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “I don’t know that the president’s comments will inflame folks wanting to do something other than what we typically do surrounding elections.”
Bradley Seaman, the county’s elections administrator, said Wednesday that Missoula County will have no polling places in the November election. Rather, he said, all activity will be consolidated to the main election office, where protocols are already in place.
Montana’s two main political parties have always had observers and this year will be no different, he said.
“We encourage people to watch our process,” Seaman said. “They’re open to the public and the more people see the more confident they are in the voting process in Montana.”
With Montana conducting an all-mail election this year, Missoula County is set to mail 77,175 ballots, which will go out on Oct. 9. In person voting began on Oct. 2, and overseas voting is already taking place.
As of Wednesday morning, Seaman said the county had accepted 374 ballots.
“We do have a very clear observer policy for anyone that wants to come and watch,” he said. “When we encourage people to come and watch, it just can’t impede that process for voters who want to vote. We’ve been having people watch our processes since Oct. 2.”
Chris Lounsbury, the county’s chief administrative officer, said this year’s election will follow protocols used in past elections. He said security will be in place to ensure there aren’t any issues with outside interference.
“We’ll have deputy sheriffs, which we’ve had in the past, so there’s no change there,” Lounsbury said. “The addition we’re looking to add to our normal operating center includes having some security folks at our election building overnight and on weekends to continue to make sure we don’t have any issues around ballot security or those kinds of things.”