Dogs behave with Santa at Southgate Mall

You don’t want to hear those jingle jangling tunes yet, do you? I know. But we’re diving right in because Santa is taking pictures with pets at Southgate Mall.

Reporter Betsy Cohen reports on a Sunday photo shoot:

Santa was quite impressed with the family, and acknowledged that all his visitors have been well-behaved.

“The kids in Missoula have been excellent, and the dogs have been extremely friendly,” Santa commented from his grand chair during a short break before his next listening session.

Happy … oh, nevermind. It can wait.

— Keila Szpaller

Happy Thanksgiving!

That’s Moose right there. I mean, it’s a dog named Moose, and it’s Councilman Mike O’Herron’s little buddy.

Moose isn’t getting turkey on Thanksgiving. I can hardly believe it, but that’s what the councilman said. Moose eats raw carrots, and he likes strawberries, too.

“He’s quite a little vegan,” O’Herron said.

*Well, minus Moose’s love for good ol’ doggy kibble.

I asked some elected folks yesterday to share either something delicious they’ll be eating on Thanksgiving or something they’re thankful for as city leaders.

O’Herron said he’s thankful for “relative civility” on the council. By the way, no meeting next Monday.

Councilman Jon Wilkins said he’s thankful for his new granddaughter, Harper Joy, and for living in the great city of Missoula. He’s a military veteran who said he’s lived a strange life.

“I’m just thankful to be alive,” Wilkins said.

Council President Marilyn Marler said she was thankful for having a pretty good crop of councilors on board. She’s also thankful for the Humane Society of Western Montana, where she adopted a little pooch named Miles.

“Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday,” said Marler, who likes the focus on gratitude.

I’m thankful Marler mentioned the Humane Society because it gives me a chance to look at the website on the clock. Back in a sec.

OK, anyone interested in adopting Jerry? Adorable, and photo from HSWMT.

What else? Councilman Alex Taft is grateful for Missoula’s trails ’cause he uses them a ton.

Taft is having dinner with 12 people from 9 years old to 71 years old, and they’ll be dining on a Hutterite turkey and a treat that’s new for the councilor.

“We’re having corn pudding. I’ve never had it before, but I love pudding, so it can’t be bad,” Taft said.

Mayor John Engen, a cook, was delving into new culinary territory, too. He was making a stuffing with kale and pine nuts, called “the Italian mother-in-law dressing.”

“I try to do something different every year,” Engen said.

Councilman Dick Haines said he’s thankful for the freedoms people have in the U.S.

“Even if you live in Missoula, you can still do most things you want to do,” Haines said.

He’ll indulge in traditional dishes on the holiday, turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and more. He anticipates it’ll put him in a stupor, too.

“All that stuff that makes you feel like an anaconda snake that can’t move. It just lays in the grass,” Haines said.

Councilman Dave Strohmaier will be driving a Hutterite turkey from Montana to Oregon, where he’ll spend Thanksgiving with his mom. He’s thankful for his mom, who just turned 90, and he’s also pleased he doesn’t have to make campaign phone calls this Thanksgiving.

“I am very thankful that I will be able to spend quality, unadulterated time with my family,” Strohmaier said.

Councilman Jason Wiener is thankful for a particular set of folks in Missoula. Wiener is in his second term, and he remembered the people who helped get him to his first city government meeting.

“Missoula’s active transportation advocates. They got me started,” said Wiener, who incidentally has deep fried a turkey before and had praise for the outcome.

At this point, I’m thankful some councilors were absent because this is the post that won’t ever end. Councilors Adam Hertz, Bob Jaffe and Caitlin Copple were gone.

Councilman Ed Childers was there, but he skedaddled before I could nab him.

Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken was there, too, and she was having the Thanksgiving dinner I’ve always wanted but was never allowed: Red meat.

“I am eating some organic, wild, grass-fed elk that we just got, so I’m really excited,” Wolken said.

And she said she’s thankful she lives in a place with such an abundance of wildlife and natural resources.

That’s all for now. I’m thankful to cover local government in a city where people care a ton about their community, everything from potholes to Gigapops. Happy Thanksgiving, and see you Monday.

— Keila Szpaller


The final count from Missoula

A throng of people were at the fairgrounds on Election Day, but yesterday during the final count, you could fit the seven onlookers into a little VW bug and still close the doors.

Most of the folks, four, were waiting on numbers from the superintendent of public instruction race, and that story is here.

Head to the Montana Secretary of State’s site for the most recent outcomes.

Other news? I don’t have a dog picture for you yet, but I do want to draw your attention to an invitation that ran today in our letters to the editor.

Photo courtesy of Scott Wagner

Folks who want to light Missoula’s bridges like the artfully illuminated ones they saw in Portugal are holding a meeting 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, at the Doubletree Hotel in Missoula. Let ’em know what you think, and do it now, not later when the train has left the tracks.

These lighted bridges were not only works of art in themselves, but they also ‘lit up’ the adjacent rivers and streets, and added a stunning architectural feature to the overall city landscape.

Here’s my earlier story about the project, and I couldn’t help but repost the photograph. It’s hard to believe Thanksgiving is in one week, so the sparkly bridge will help us get festive for the holidays.

— Keila Szpaller



Counting is under way


I’m sitting at the elections center doing math while the Missoula County Elections Office counts ballots.

The Superintendent of Public Instruction race is tight enough that if incumbent Denise Juneau pulls in enough votes, the race won’t be close enough for a recount. But if Sandy Welch brings in a lot of votes, she won’t have to pay for a recount ’cause the difference will be less than one quarter of 1 percent.

Most of the provisional ballots are from Missoula, though. Some 2,000 out of 5,500, in fact, so these final counts would seem to lean in Juneau’s favor.

Volunteers with both campaigns are here, chatting with each other. Here’s what Dan Stusek, with the Welch campaign, said after hearing a chunk of provisional ballots are from Missoula:

Looking at it completely objectively, I’d rather not have heard that information.

He wasn’t surprised, though, given the huge number of people registering here on Election Day.

– Keila Szpaller

Oh, those last minute Lucys

Too much elections falderal? Too few pet posts? I’m ready to put up a dog picture myself, but I’ve got at least one more post about voting.

Sunday, the Missoulian ran an editorial saying it’s time to make improvements for people who register to vote on Election Day:

Two-hour waits in the cold make voting less accessible. Four-hour waits in inclement weather make voting nearly impossible for some …

See those people in the fuzzy picture I took? The ones with their hands raised? (I’m sorry for the shaky photo.) They’d been in line three hours, and they weren’t even inside the building.

In this letter to the editor that ran today, Gary Hoffman said it’s their own fault, and they should take some responsibility. Hoffman advocates for cutting off registration one or two days before Tuesday.

As for me, I have no sympathy for those who endured long lines in cold weather due to their own procrastination. Voting is indeed a right but it is also a privilege which should involve some personal responsibility …

— Keila Szpaller

P.S. Lucys? Lucies?

Californians can vote, too!

Here’s a story from Eric Edlund, who tried to register to vote when he first moved to Montana from California:

I moved to Missoula in Fall, 1997, and at the DMV when I handed in my California driver’s license the guy at the desk made a snide comment about so many Californians moving here that he figured he’d have to move to Alaska to get away.


I didn’t think anything of it (and in fact I’m sympathetic to concerns about the scourge of Californians moving to places like Montana. Now that I’m in, shut the gate behind me, that’s what I say : ) ).


The next spring (or maybe it was that November, I can’t recall) Missoula had a local election, just school board and some mill levies I believe.


Since I knew that voter registrations were done at the DMV, I figured I was registered and showed up at the polling place. But I was not on the list, and since I don’t think MT had same-day registration then, that was one of the only elections in my adult life in which I did not vote. I registered at the Courthouse the next day.


However, my wife, who’d followed the same procedure at about the same time to get her MT driver’s license, *was* registered to vote, which makes me suspect that the guy who helped me at DMV intentionally neglected to submit my voter registration.


No hard feelings. I’ve had no problems voting every time since then, never waited more than 10 minutes, usually no wait at all; I voted early absentee this year and it was painless. We’re lucky to live in a state where elections are so well-run.

Thanks for the anecdote, Eric.

— Keila Szpaller

Don’t mess with voters or you’ll be busted

Missoula County elections administrator Vickie Zeier said the staff “cooked” counting absentee ballots.

Here’s the latest follow up on Election Day lines.

Even though people who waited until the last day to register had to spend some time in line, if you do the math, it looks like the folks doing registrations cooked, too.

At least 1,600 and maybe 2,000 people registered at the fairgrounds, according to the Missoula County Elections Office. The number of people registering folks was 14. They registered people from 7 a.m. ’til around 11 p.m.

So if they registered 1,600 people, that’s roughly seven or eight an hour per person. If they registered 2,000, that’s nine or 10 an hour. It’s just an estimate, and it assumes a couple things, but it seems like a sizzle.

So if you add more workers, maybe pay people more, you can get more people registered faster, right?

I don’t know, but maybe President Barack Obama has some ideas. Reporter Rob Chaney sent me this quote from the president’s acceptance speech.

I want to thank every American who participated in this election … whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time. By the way, we have to fix that.

According to the elections administrator, the solution isn’t as simple as adding more people, though. She’s already done so, for one thing.

Zeier and Secretary of State Linda McCulloch both pointed to one fix that would easily cut down on wait times on Election Day: Voters need to get themselves registered earlier, they said.

According to them, one to three hours in line isn’t out of whack if people wait until Election Day to register. I think the waits at the polls were 5 minutes or less.

Zeier said she already adds people for election season, and bringing on even more costs more money. Plus, she has to compete for funds against the Sheriff’s Office.

Here’s a snapshot from her of the madness on election Tuesdays:

Everybody is being pushed to the limits on Election Day. We’ve got ballots to receive. We’ve got a line of people to register. We have the polls calling, phones ringing off the wall. So truly it’s a balancing act on that day. I really think that the citizens have to take some initiative and start getting there a little earlier.

No doubt. But Board of County Commission Chairman Bill Carey agreed that three and a half hours is too long, and he said maybe there’s some legislative changes that can help.

Anyway, I just looked at the headline here and realized I was going to add another anecdote from election headquarters.

The mood inside the Fine Arts building was sometimes festive, sometimes stressful, like when a poll watcher(s) tried to shut down voting after 8 p.m.

But if you were going to vote, no one was going to bully you, that’s for sure. I watched election coordinator Rebecca Connors face off with a poll watcher. (You can’t see her very well, but that’s her in the little thumbnail picture.)

He was hovering over a table where people were voting, and Connors asked the man if he was a friend of the woman at the table. He said no, and she told him to stop intimidating her and stop using his iPad (I think it was an iPad but some kind of tablet) to film her filling out her ballot.

He told her he wasn’t filming, and she said, “I’m watching you.”

Then, Connors made that two-fingers-to-eyes sign and pointed her fingers at him, and she wasn’t joking. See? Don’t mess with voters and election officials.

– Keila Szpaller

Last man to vote in Missoula County

Chris Pumphrey was the last person to vote on Election Day in Missoula County in 2012.

“I was here earlier, and I took a number, and they said come back in a couple hours,” Pumphrey said late Tuesday night. “So I showed up at 8 p.m.”

That’s when Missoula County Sheriff’s Capt. Rich Maricelli pulled the fairgrounds gate closed, and Pumphrey was the last one through.

Some folks waited three and a half hours to register and vote on Election Day. An estimated 2,000 people registered on Tuesday, up from 1,350 in 2008, according to a rough, early count from an elections official.

Pumphrey moved to Missoula about three years ago, and he waited ’til the last day to register, but he wasn’t complaining about the long line.

For one thing, his girlfriend brought him socks and a jacket to keep him warm. And Lillian Sanclair kept him company, too.

“I’m providing emotional support,” Sanclair said after the line was short and everyone was inside the building.

She was just half joking, but Pumphrey said it took some determination to stay at the fairgrounds. Some people didn’t make it.

“I was tempted to leave and especially when I heard they’d called (the presidential race),” Pumphrey said.

But he didn’t. Instead, the database consultant and musician cracked open a book, “The Great Work of Your Life,” as he inched ahead to the registration desks.

“I was reading it in the light as I could,” Pumphrey said.

— Keila Szpaller

Your neighbors think you don’t vote

Here’s my story about this letter going around that tells people if their neighbors voted. It isn’t always correct, though.

It’s from a group in Virginia.

Councilman Jason Wiener passed on more information about this strategy some groups use. I guess if you put social pressure on people, they’re more likely to vote.

And if you throw parties, people get excited about voting, too. I hope for many parties in the 2013 city election year.

Here’s Wiener’s note in full (Caveats: “Sent from a tablet; Rules of grammar in repose”):

I noted these mailings going out. Saw one from LCV (League of Conservation voters) (though with a lighter touch). Here’s the background on why the mailing took the form it did, right down to the “expected high turnout” portion. All based on social science about what drives voting. Of course, LCV mailed my neighborhood and the limited government types mailed Miller Creek; these types of things go to boost turnout in targeted precincts.

Another interesting bit is that people are statistically significantly more likely to vote if you make a plan with them on how they are going to do so: drive, walk, time of day, etc.

I didn’t think anyone would have the guts to go as far as the vote history cards. Not that offensive in the grand scheme of what we’ve been subjected to though.

Here’s another elections story about a ballot pickup “service” the League of Conservation Voters is providing.

More? Track your absentee ballot here.

Important: Know that you can still register to vote. You can even do it on Election Day. Here are a few reminders from the Missoula County Elections Office:

  • Late registration is open at the Elections Center at the fairgrounds from 8 a.m. to noon on Monday, Nov. 5. Take the South Avenue entrance and look for the yellow signs.
  • Same-day voter registration will be open at the Elections Center at the fairgrounds on Election Day, Monday, Nov. 6 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • If you’re already registered and opted not to vote absentee, go to your polling place to vote. Again, check that location at the My Voter Page.
  • Anyone who has received an absentee ballot and not returned it yet should drop it off in person at the Elections Center, the 2nd floor of the Courthouse annex, or in the blue drop box in the Courthouse parking lot (on the west side of the building). Absentee voters can also drop their voted ballots off at any Missoula County polling place on Election Day.
  • Please call the Elections Office, 258-4751, with questions or to speak to elections staff.

– Keila Szpaller