Elections clerks across Montana could find themselves increasingly challenged to serve voters with severe physical disabilities because of a dwindling supply of polling equipment designed especially for people who cannot use traditional voting machines. Existing inventories of voting machines for disabled voters are antiquated, some nearly two decades old. Many units are in disrepair and elections officials have been unable to replace the aging machines with newer, modern equipment because of state law. In 2008, a disabled voter sued Missoula County for not being in full compliance with federal law when it did not have a backup unit for a malfunctioning machine specially designed for people who do not have full function of their limbs.
“We really need to invest in new technology,” said Rebecca Connors, the elections administrator for Missoula County. “The equipment we have are at the end of their useful lives.”
While there were no immediate concerns for the May 25 special congressional election, elections officials were hoping to get some relief from the governor and Legislature last month.
Gov. Steve Bullock tried intervening when he inserted a new provision into an unrelated elections bill to give Secretary of State Corey Stapleton the authority to certify voting machines that don’t comply with current state law. But his proposal to allow counties to update their equipment died when lawmakers adjourned April 28 without taking up the matter.