Flathead Valley residents on Tuesday cast votes to decide the fate of 10 separate public offices, though only half of them were contested. Results weren’t announced until after midnight because of delays election officials said were due to their counting machine not handling the folds in mail-in ballots as efficiently as they anticipated.
“Our 850 counting machine, it was having challenges with the folds in the ballots so it required us to do a lot of re-hand folding to break the binding so it would feed through the machine,” said Debbie Pierson, election administrator in the Flathead County Election Office. She said during federal election years they tend to begin smoothing out the folds the day before the election, but since the vote count is so much lower in election years like this they waited until the day of. The wait allowed them to use volunteers after they got off work, and increased security, Pierson said.
“It’s not a race, we care about accuracy,” Pierson said.
In perhaps the highest profile race, incumbent Jim Atkinson and challenger Karlene Osorio-Khor were usurped by newcomer Kyle Waterman to represent Ward 3 on the Kalispell City Council. Waterman won with 261 votes, which came to just over 39 percent of the vote.
“I’m pretty excited, I’m excited people want to see a change,” Waterman said. “I threw my name in the hat at the last minute just because I was upset to see the same election happen over and over a couple of times. We have some great things ahead of us and a lot of good work to do. It’s time to take some ownership.”
In Kalispell’s Ward 4, Sid Daoud tried unsuccessfully to unseat incumbent Tim Kluesner. Kluesner won that race with 261 votes, which was 74 percent of votes cast.
The Kalispell City Council is comprised of two representatives from each of four wards that make up the town.
In the race for Whitefish Municipal Court Judge, Kristi Curtis and William Hileman Jr. were running to replace retiring Municipal Court Judge Bradley Johnson. Hileman won that race with 842 votes, or 55 percent.
In Whitefish, three council candidates were running for three seats. Incumbent Andy Feury and newcomers Ryan Gregory Hennen and Melissa Hartman were elected to the council. The top vote getter was Feury, followed by Hartman and Hennen.
Columbia Falls featured a contested mayoral race, where incumbent and former City Councilor Don Barnhart whomped John Rallis. In the town’s first contested mayoral race for over 15 years, Barnhart was untouchable with 88 percent of the vote.
Barnhart, who was running for his third term as mayor and is a former volunteer fire chief, previously told the Daily Inter Lake he thought the success the town had experienced over the last eight years should speak to his abilities. In the complex process of rediscovering its identity, the town had made demonstrable steps of improvement.
Rallis had a different take, saying if he was elected he would work full-time to attract manufacturers back to town. He said Columbia Falls was changing but not changing the right way, and was filling with low-paid workers servicing tourists.
Four people ran for three open seats on the Columbia Falls City Council: Stephen Duffy, incumbent Jennifer Lovering, Paula Robinson and incumbent Michael Shepard. The top vote getter was Robinson with 509 votes, followed by Lovering with 466 votes and Shepard with 438 votes. Duffy received only 289 votes and was not elected.
In uncontested races, the mayor of Kalispell, Mark Johnson, was re-elected in his second consecutive uncontested race along with Ward 1 City Councilor Sandra Carlson and Ward 2 City Councilor Chad Graham. Both uncontested city councilors were incumbents.
Lori Adams was also reelected in an unopposed race for Kalispell Municipal Judge.
Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
City Council Ward 1
Sandra Carlson — 522
City Council Ward 2
Chad Graham — 756
City Council Ward 3
Kyle Waterman — 261
Jim Atkinson — 214
Karlene Osorio-Khor — 192
City Council Ward 4
Tim Kluesner — 387
Sid Daoud — 124
Mark Johnson — 2,272
Municipal Court Judge
Lori Adams — 2,274
Andy Feury — 1,091
Melissa Hartman — 1,063
Ryan Hennen — 962
Municipal Court Judge
William Hileman — 842
Kristi Curtis — 621
Thomas Tornow — 75
Paula Robinson — 509
Jennifer Lovering — 466
Michael Shepard — 438
Stephen Duffy — 289
Donald Barnhart — 562
John Rallis — 75
Registered voters — 22,547
Ballots cast — 4,771 (21.16%)
— Preliminary results as of 12:15 a.m.