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Ballot returns high and rising as deadline for Missoula City Council election nears

Posted at 11:12 AM, Nov 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-04 13:12:37-05

MISSOULA — With the political blend of the Missoula City Council up for grabs, voters are returning ballots in strong numbers ahead of Tuesday’s election.

As of Monday morning, Missoula County Elections Supervisor Dana Causby counted the returns at nearly 30 percent. Ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Tuesday to be counted.

“We’ve had just over 45,000 ballots go out, and so far we’ve taken in just under 13,000,” Causby said. “We’re at 28.5%. That’s really good. I’d really love to see that number hit 40%.”

A seat in all six city wards is up for grabs, and three are being defended by incumbents, including Heidi West in Ward 1, Mirtha Becerra in Ward 2 and Gwen Jones in Ward 3. They’re being challenged by Amber Shaffer in Ward 1, Brent Sperry in Ward 2, and Drew Iverson in Ward 3.

The other three city wards include all newcomers, with Amber Sherrill and Allen Ault competing in Ward 4; Alex Fregerio and John Contos in Ward 5; and Nick Shontz and Sandra Vasecka in Ward 6.

As of Tuesday morning, according to Causby, Ward 5 had the most returns at 2,491, followed by Ward 4 at 2,458. Ward 1 followed at 2,241.

Of the 45,049 ballots issued for the city election, 48 have been rejected, 391 voided and 4,827 were undeliverable, according to the elections office.

“Ballots are not forwardable, by law, across the country,” said Causby. “If you moved and you didn’t update your address, your ballot will come back to our office. We do call everyone and make sure they know.”

This year’s election has been more contentious than in years past. It has attracted the spending of a new partisan political action committee created to place conservative candidates on the City Council.

The non-partisan Montana Conservation Voters also has backed a selection of left-leaning candidates based on their support for public lands and open space.

Voters across Missoula will have the final say on Tuesday night, though the primary election proved telling. Of the three city wards that appeared on the June ballot, all three left-leaning candidates scored an easy win.

Causby expects turnout to be high, and the election office is already looking to next November, when both state and federal offices will appear on the ballot.

“We’re already working toward what’s happening in 2020,” Causby said. “We do bring in part-time people to manage key points of this (Tuesday) election so we can lean forward to the next one.”

Ballots can be returned up until 8 p.m. at any one of the city’s seven drop off locations, including the Missoula County Fairgrounds and each of the city’s six wards.