Recount required for mayor vs. manager vote

By: 
DEB HILL and CHARLIE DENISON
News Staff

It’s official – on Monday there will be a recount of the votes to determine whether Lewistown will retain a manager/commission form of government, or change to a mayor/chief administrator/commission form. Election results showed a mere six-vote difference, tipped in favor of retaining the existing form of government.

Fergus County Clerk and Recorder Rana Wichman, who serves as the county’s election administrator, confirmed Tuesday afternoon she received a petition with the required 10 signatures. According to Montana statutes, if a correctly signed petition is received within five days of the official canvass of the election, a recount must be undertaken. Because the margin of votes was so slim, falling within the less-than-one-fourth-of-1-percent level designated by statute, Fergus County will pick up the cost of the recount, Wichman said.

 

County commissioners form recount board

The process of a recount is laid out in Montana Code, Wichman said, including the requirement for the county’s governing body (the Board of Commissioners) to serve as the official recount board.

“All three commissioners will read each ballot. The third commissioner will announce the vote aloud, and both I and one of my deputies will record it,” Wichman said. “The reason for all three commissioners to read each ballot is so they can verify that the person announcing the vote is accurate.”

Each of the two recorders will keep a separate record of the votes, and the two records will be compared after all the ballots have been read. If the two records agree, the results can be certified, but if they don’t, the entire process must be gone through again, according to Montana statutes.

The recount process is public, although the statutes say those attending may not interfere with the counting. One qualified elector from each side of the ballot issue may be present for the recount, along with the press.

 

How accurate are the vote counting machines?

Wichman said she does not expect the recount to end with a different result than the original outcome, as the voting machines are carefully calibrated and tested.

“After each federal election, the Secretary of State’s office has us test the counting machine,” Wichman said. “They tell us which race and which precincts to count, and we have to count those by hand. We confirm that the hand count matches the machine count of those races. So far, it always has.”

 

City Commission discusses election results

At Monday’s City Commission meeting, Chairman Dave Byerly addressed election results with the commission and those in attendance. Considering the 2016 election was largely a “change election,” Byerly said he was surprised the existing form of government won the election, albeit by only six votes. City Commisioner Rick Poss, on the other hand, predicted the victory, but he did not anticipate it being so close. The fact that it came down to six votes surprised all of the commissioners.

“I believe we need to do a better job of informing and engaging the community,” Byerly said. “Simply saying ‘it was on the agenda’ when we hear complaints from community members is not good enough. We need to do better.”

A few months ago, the commission welcomed residents to come talk about how they think the commissioners are performing during the committee of the whole. Three community members expressed their opinions, and Byerly said he felt that was a productive way to engage the community more. The commissioners want to hear from people.

“I want to see people from all walks of life getting involved,” Commissioner Frank Gremaux said. “We need to get more people interested in what we’re doing.”

The commission also discussed establishing an email list, a Facebook page, forming a subcommittee on communication, creating a communications director position, establishing neighborhood councils and other concepts. Commissioner Beth Putnam said, however, this isn’t just about the commission; it’s about everybody.

“Government takes participation,” Putnam said. “You don’t always get what you want, and I don’t either, but, without participation, it always feels like it’s one way. Without getting feedback, we don’t know how you are feeling. We try, but it is [up to us] citizens to articulate what we want, what we don’t want, what we are willing to support, what we don’t want to support... Seven people can’t do it. It takes everyone. We live and die together.”

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