Friday, November 7, 2008

Election Day in Western Montana

CNS photographers Tiffany Wilson and Tess McEnroe covered Election Day in Missoula and Ravalli counties. For the best view of their photos and captions, click on the "View All Images" button above.



It’s been three days since the historic election, and Missoula County is still counting ballots.

Vickie Zeier, head of the county’s Office of Elections, and her staff worked for more than 24 hours straight Tuesday before calling it quits at 5 a.m. Wednesday. By that point, 99 of 101 precincts had been counted and Zeier was starting to see some mistakes in her staff’s work.

Despite the hectic schedule, Zeier said, the elections were “pretty successful” despite 85 percent of active registered voters casting ballots.

She credits her staff, including 550 polling judges, for making sure that every one of the nearly 60,000 voters was able to vote in a timely manner, avoiding the long lines seen elsewhere in the country.

The two uncounted precincts were both in Alberton and had errors with the card-reading machine. The ballots from those precincts will be hand-counted on Monday.

Zeier needs to finish counting those precincts, clear 868 provisional ballots and tabulate military ballots before Monday at 3 p.m., when an elections counting board will go over her final numbers.

The board will look at the number of votes cast and compare it to the final tallies of ballots counted. The two numbers are supposed to match, said Zeier. If they don’t, the board will need to resolve the discrepancy.

By Wednesday, official results from the county election must be at the Secretary of State’s office in Helena.

As for Zeier, once the ballots are all finalized and the election season is officially over, she’s going on a two-week vacation.

“I deserve it,” she said.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Missoula, How Blue Can You Get?


Missoula has long been a Democratic stronghold; the county has voted with a higher Democratic percentage than the rest of Montana down the line in recent elections. This year was no different. -MORE-

Election Night 2008

Democrats gathered at the Wilma Theater in Missoula cheer Tuesday night as they watch CNN call the battleground state of Virginia for Obama. Photo/Daniel Doherty

West Valley round-up wins big


Look out Missoula County, there’s a new gang in town.

Residents in four communities in Western Missoula County voted overwhelmingly to band together to create the West Valley Community Council Tuesday night.

That means Frenchtown, Huson, the Six Mile, and the Nine Mile areas will have a local center for public input and discourse and speak with a single voice on issues before the county commissioners.

With all five precincts reporting Tuesday night, the West Valley Community Council passed by a margin of 70 percent, 1,357 for and 587 against.

“I’m really pleased that the voters in the outlying areas of the county decided to let their voices be heard,” said Frenchtown resident Ray Winn. “The urban areas of Missoula have had too much influence on the rural people.”

The new council will have five members, one from each precinct on the new council. Interested individuals need to sign up at the courthouse. The county commissioners will choose the first council from the pool of applicants. This temporary council will serve until a permanent council is elected in the May school board election.

Winn said there wasn’t a great deal of campaigning for the initiative because he saw it as a “Can’t lose” proposition because it didn’t tax people or change a law. He suspects that the people who voted “No” were tired of big government and regulation and didn’t even read the ballot.

Stan Lucier, also a Frenchtown resident, suspects that opponents live in the hills of the upper Nine Mile.

“My wife calls ‘em Montuckiens,” Lucier said. “They don’t want to be messed with or bothered and they vote ‘No’ on everything.”

Whatever the case, supporters of the measure will be looking to voice their concerns on issues like road conditions. Lucier feels that it’s important to start by establishing Frenchtown as a city. Reviewing the sewer and water planning for the area and zoning in general will determine the valley’s appearance years from now. Another concern is the expensive requirements being imposed on people who build houses in the area.

“The first year is going be about communicating what they’re (the council) there for and how they can help,” Lucier said.

Florence conservatives lift Hawk to fourth term


Republican Ray Hawk soared high Tuesday night as Ravalli County voters re-elected him to House District 90.

Three terms of experience and a platform of reducing taxes and supporting small businesses paid off as Hawk won 60 percent of the votes to Gritzner’s 40 percent, 3,116 to 2,120 votes.

“I had no idea it was going to be this close,” Hawk said, after hearing the results for absentee ballots before turning in for the night. He was unavailable for a comment on his victory.

Hawk, 67, entered politics after a career in banking. He ran on a platform of conservative policies. His primary goals, he said, will be to eliminate the state’s business equipment tax and reduce property taxes.

Hawk’s opponent, Yvonne Gritzner, a volunteer with Montana Public Broadcasting and former program director for Montana Committee for the Humanities, said that defeating an incumbent is always hard. Ravalli County, especially, is a “Republican stronghold,” she said.

“I think that people do feel it is time for a change,” she said. “I think that my views on healthcare and education rang true.”

The two candidates were divided over issues such as further funding for public education, alternative energy and taxation.

While Gritzner thought that public education in Montana is extremely under funded, Hawk disagreed, saying during the campaign that current school funding is adequate.

Hawk also disagreed with Gritzner on the immediacy of alternative energy

“Right now we have to pursue coal and natural gas, we can’t pursue enough alternative energy to meet the needs of the population,” Hawk said earlier.

Though Gritzner was disappointed with the results, she believes there are Ravalli County residents who are ready for a change.

“You always feel like you could have done more,” she said.

Hands Grabs Big Win in HD 99


Luckily for Betsy Hands’s challenger, she will have to call long distance to rub it in.

Democrat Hands, 38, beat Republican opponent Jedediah Cox, 24, who’s currently in South Korea, with a strong majority for House District 99.

“I won because I am known in Missoula, represent Missoula's highest priorities, and I run an open campaign making an effort to listen to everyone,” Hands said.

Hands took 72 percent of the vote, with 3,514 votes to Cox’s 1,391.
Cox ended his campaign last month after accepting a job teaching English in South Korea, although he could not formally drop out of the race because the ballots had already been printed. Thousands of absentee ballots had already been turned in by the time he left the country.

Cox said he would return to Montana if he won the election, but District 99 is considered a stronghold for Democrats. In 2006, Hands won the district with 70 percent of the vote.

Last month, Hands left her position as executive director of homeWORD, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide affordable and environmentally sound housing, to focus on her campaign. She said she plans to spend the months leading up to the 2009 Legislative session working on bills she wants to sponsor, attending Legislative meetings and presenting at a sustainability conference in Boston.

“I am also going to enjoy spending the holidays with family and friends before heading to Helena and being fully focused on the legislative session,” she said.

Cox could not be reached in South Korea for comment.