New voter registration system removes fire board election from ballots mailed to tax-exempt properties
April 27, 2023
SEELEY LAKE- Some voters in the area may be missing a ballot question regarding the Fire District Board election.
A new voter registration system in use this year lines up voter registration with GIS maps which compare the property with tax-payer information to decide which issues should, or shouldn't be included in each ballot.
The new system removed location specific questions from ballots going outside of the eligible area, but it also removed the election question from properties covered by tax assistance programs such as those for disabled veterans and their spouses.
Rachel Adams of Seeley Lake feels that the current election is very important so she was a bit alarmed when her mother-in-law said that her ballot didn’t include an option to vote for a fire board candidate.
“I said, ‘that doesn't make any sense’,” said Adams.
Her mother-in-law, the widow of a fully disabled veteran lives in a tax-exempt property and while that shouldn’t have excluded her from voting in the fire board election, the GIS database had removed the question from her ballot.
“We looked at mine compared to hers, and you know, yeah, it just wasn't there,” said Adams.
She contacted the Missoula County Elections Office to see why the question was missing from one but not the other. It turned out to be an error.
“When that voter contacted us, we replaced that and sent out a new ballot to them,” said Bradley Seaman, Missoula County Election Administrator.
The new system removed the fire district board election from ballots sent to addresses outside of the fire district, but it was also removed from tax-exempt properties within the fire district, and in some cases the absence of the question could be in error. The overlapping of these two criteria is small, an estimated “10-20” ballots in the Seeley Lake area.
“I don't know that that got tested when they were implementing that database,” Seaman said. “We are working on the first election with this new voter database.”
As to why the new system decided to exclude tax-assisted property owners from the fire board election, but not the public school levies, Seaman didn’t know.
“I'd have to dig into the specific reasons and laws,” Seaman said. “I’ll have to ask the secretary of state why the database is set up in that capacity.”
According to the Montana Department of Revenue’s Missoula County Field Office, there are levels of tax-assistance for low-income properties and disabled veterans, and 100% tax assistance is not very common.
A full disability as a result of their service would be needed for the tax assistance to reach an exemption for the individual and their spouse. But while this criteria doesn’t apply to a large demographic, it does apply to a very vulnerable one and the emergency resources presided over by the fire district board are the types of services that demographic is likely to need and should have some say over.
“The people that are being affected by this are probably not the ones that have kids in high school,” Adams said. “They’re probably the ones that are going to be using 9-1-1 services
and those are the people we need to protect the most.”
If a voter receives a ballot missing the fire district board election then they should contact the Elections Office as soon as possible to have their situation evaluated and a new ballot sent out if the original was in error. To contact the Missoula County Elections Office, call 406-258-4751 or