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Missoula voters my receive letter to re-register

Ian Marquand    Montana's News Station   Oct 1, 2008

Thousands of registered voters in Missoula County will be getting a letter soon. Telling them they might not be legally registered after all.

They'll also be told how to resolve their status. It's part of a Republican party operation intended to prevent election fraud. 

The state Republican party is challenging thousands of voters in counties statewide. The party is doing that as a direct response to what Governor Schweitzer has said was a joke.

He said he meddled in the 2006 US Senate election. Humorous or not almost 3,500 registered voters in Missoula County now will have to prove they deserve a county ballot. And that's creating a big headache for Missoula election officials.

For Vickie Zeier and the Missoula County elections office, it's becoming crunch time.

"We are in the process of trying to get 12,000 absentee ballots in the mail by Monday. There's just a lot of work. And to have this on top of everything else is a little overwhelming," said Zeier.

Zeier's talking about a new task that arrived late Monday afternoon from Jacob Eaton, the executive director of the Montana Republican Party. He's challenging the registration of more than 3,400 county voters on grounds they don't live where they say they do.

When asked if she had ever seen anything like this Zeier replied, "never. I've had two challenges since I've been elections administrator since 1993. This is the affidavit of the challenge, this is challenging this person."

The issue is residency. To be legally registered to vote in Missoula County, you must have a residential address in the county. The challenges target people who have filed change of address forms with the post office but have not changed their address with the county elections office.

"We started with the counties that had the highest per centage of discrepancies. We want to make sure that we're doing everything that we can to insure that the elections process in Montana is above reproach. To know that everybody that's voted in Montana is a legitimate Montana voter and is registered as they should be by law," said Zeier.

Under the law, Zeier has five working days to send letters informing voters that their residency has been challenged. She's also sending affidavits which voters must fill out, have notarized, and return to the county all before election day.

Reporter Ian Marquand asked, "Certainly somebody in another state, for instance, can say, 'Yeah. I've moved. This is my residence.' And if they send that back, they're done in Montana."

"They're done in Montana and I will cancel their registration in Montana," replied Zeier. 

County workers are helping Zeier get all 3,400 packets ready to mail by Monday. Of the challenges, almost 2,200 involve voters who show a change of mailing address within Missoula County. Deputy county attorney Mike Sehestedt has rejected those challenges, since those people are allowed by law to vote at their previous polling place.

But Zeier is sending them a letter anyway.

But more than 300 people show new addresses outside of the county. If they've really moved, they'll have to register in their new county.

And the 920 people with new out-of-state addresses may have to register in their new states, if they've moved there permanently. And if they have moved, Zeier will remove their name from her voting list.

Missoula County is not the only county dealing with challenges to voter residency. Eaton also has filed challenges with county election officials in Butte, Helena, and four other county seats.

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