Commissioners Consider Proposal to Reduce Number of Polling Places in Valley County
On Jan. 11, the Valley County Commissioners heard a proposal to reduce the number of voting precincts across the county. The county currently has eight voting precincts located in Lustre, Frazer, Nashua, Hinsdale, Opheim, Fort Peck and two precincts in Glasgow. The proposal would form three precincts in Valley County and would be set up according to how the Montana House Districts are designated across the county.
The proposal would eliminate election day voting in the Frazer, Nashua, Lustre, Opheim, Fort Peck and Hinsdale precincts, making the sole polling place that remains to be located at the Glasgow Civic Center. The proposal to eliminate the five precincts is estimated to save the county between $15,000 to $20,000 per election year, according to Valley County Election Administrator Lynne Nyquist. Nyquist also stated that currently she has to pay and train over 30 election judges every election year, in addition to paying for their travel and cited that it is difficult to find election judges to staff every precinct location. Nyquist also pointed out that majority of this year’s voting was completed by absentee ballot, with 70% of the county utilizing this method of polling.
The proposed action has been on the commissioner’s radar for a while, and has been discussed at community meetings. Commissioner Paul Tweeten stated that during discussions at these meetings the proposal was met with little resistance, but that such meetings also do not garner much attendance. The one complaint that Tweeten could recall regarding reducing polling places was the social aspect that neighborhood polling places can supply.
The proposed plan’s benefits can also be viewed as its downside depending where you reside in the county. For example, those whom live in the Vandalia and Tampico area, the voting districts can almost seem somewhat nonsensical as some residents can place their vote in Hinsdale or less than a mile away in Fort Peck. In this case, the idea of one polling place would be ideal. The downside falls on the residents on the fringes of the county, such as Richland, Lustre, and Opheim. If these residents wish to cast their ballots in person, they would have to endure a lengthy drive to do so. Some people in rural communities may also feel like they are losing a hometown tradition of gathering at their local polling place, making it in some measure a community social event. Last minute voters may be at a disadvantage too, waiting to cast their votes until they have weighed the pros and cons of each measure before filling their ballots. A notion which was probably not an uncommon one this year because of the several big developments and scandals that plagued the heated presidential race this year, right up to Election Day.
The commissioners will make their decision on this proposal by this coming Jan. 19, when Commissioner Bruce Peterson returns and is able to provide his opinions regarding this matter.