A final determination of who won the Republican primary nomination for the District 3 Flathead County commissioner race awaits a hand recount of ballots on Monday, June 25, according to County Clerk Paula Robinson.
Jay Scott, who trails Gary Krueger by 30 votes, requested the recount following Tuesday’s canvass of election results. State law requires a losing candidate to wait until after the canvass before asking for a recount.
Krueger and Scott topped a five-way GOP race in District 3.
The number of votes separating the two men has changed several times since the preliminary results of the June 5 primary election were released. The most recent numbers, provided after the provisional ballots were added in last week and after the county Clerk’s Office audit of election totals, show Krueger with 3,665 votes to Scott’s 3,635.
When all ballots were counted on election night, the two men were separated by 15 votes, with Krueger in the lead. After provisional ballots were counted and added to vote totals, Krueger’s lead increased to 17 votes
Vote totals for two other Republican candidates in the District 3 commissioner race also changed in the June 14 summary report from the elections office.
Bob Herron finished with 2,365 votes and Terry Kramer ended up with 1,962 votes. The vote total for Mike Schlegel — 2,047 — didn’t change.
The District 3 race also included 34 write-in votes; 25 over votes (which means a voter voted for more than one candidate so their vote counted for no one) and 1,345 under votes, which means 1,345 people chose not to vote in that particular race.
Scott will not have to pay for the recount.
According to Robinson, because the number of votes separating the two candidates is under the threshold specified in state law, the recount cost is the county’s responsibility.
She will cover the cost out of the clerk’s office budget.
Early Tuesday afternoon, Scott said he filed the petition seeking a recount after “a tremendous number of my supporters” urged him to do so.
“They said because the numbers were so close, a recount should happen, just to be sure,” Scott said.
Scott acknowledged that every time ballots have been added to the total, Krueger continues to come out on top.
“In a way I didn’t want to ask for a recount and be viewed as a sore loser,” Scott said. “That’s not my intent. But I owe it to my supporters to have a final set of numbers.”
Robinson supports recounts in tight races and told Scott requesting a recount was his right.
Robinson noted, however, that she never has seen a recount change the results of an election.
As the county’s election administrator, Robinson oversees the recount process.
Her plan is to have 20 county employees and elected county officials at the Country Fair Kitchen for the 9 a.m. Monday recount. She will have five counting tables set up, each staffed by four people.
Three of the people will count ballots, separated by precinct in bundles of 10. The fourth person at each table will manage ballots. Ballots will be sorted into stacks of ballots cast for Krueger and Scott. Ballots cast for any other candidate are not recounted in this process, Robinson said.
Each stack of 10 ballots is rechecked before totals are entered into a spreadsheet, she said, and a tally for each of the two candidates, by precinct, is kept during the recount and added up at the end of the process.
The tally sheets are reviewed by the elections resolution board, whose members also will be at the recount.
Whoever is determined the winner of the District 3 primary election advances to the Nov. 6 general election to face Democrat Clara Mears-LaChappelle. The winner in November earns a six-year District 3 commissioner to replace retiring commissioner Dale Lauman.
The June 14 election summary also reflects a slightly higher voter turnout in Flathead County than originally reported.
The total number of ballots cast increased to 19,695 from 19,630 after provisional ballots were added in last week and up from 19,510 on election night, for a voter turnout of 34.09 percent.
That final breakdown shows 4,617 Democrat ballots cast and 15,078 Republican ballots.
Final counts in the District 1 commissioner race for a two-year position on the commission also changed in the June 14 summary report.
Interim Commissioner Cal Scott won the Republican primary, to advance to the general election where he faces Democrat Gil Jordan. His total increased to 2,963 from 2,955 on election night.
Runner-up Kirk Gentry’s final count was 2,760, up from 2,733 on election night. Glenn Kolodejchuk tallied 1,973, up from 1,959 on election night.
Doug Adams’ final tally was 1,574, up from 1,555 on election night. Mike Shepard ended the race with 1,484 votes, up from 1,473 on election night. Ben Stormes had a final vote count of 1,316, up from 1,305 on election night.
Chris Hyatt, who withdrew from the race but whose name remained on the ballot, ended up with 503 votes, up from 500 on election night. Rod Bernhardson had a final vote total of 222, up from 220 on election night.
Robinson said it’s not unusual for vote totals to change after an election.
“I challenge any election administrator in the state of Montana to not have election issues,” she said.
County employees audit ballot numbers, comparing the total number of ballots printed to the number of ballots sent to polling places and returned from polling places, to the number of absentee ballots sent out and returned, to spoiled ballots to numbers recorded by election judges in the poll books.
One provisional ballot was missed during last week’s count, Eisenzimer said. It was determined that some ballots that contained write-in candidates had been counted twice and those ballots had to be reviewed and totals changed, Robinson said.
A printer problem at one polling place resulted in a final machine tally with all sorts of extra spaces and characters, which required those ballots to be run through another machine at the elections office to be counted, Robinson said.
“I can’t specifically say what all the differences were here,” she said.
Between now and the general election, Robinson and her staff will address some ballot issues that surfaced in the primary. That includes folding test ballots and keeping them folded for several weeks before running them through a counting machine, to simulate the condition that absentee ballots are returned in.
She’ll also talk to the company which prints the ballots to ensure that the subcontractors it uses all print the county’s ballots on the exact same paper so the machines will respond to each ballot the same way.
Reporter Shelley Ridenour may be reached at 758-4439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.