By only a 42-vote spread, Michele Landquist squeaked by opponent Dennis Daneke to secure the Democratic nomination in a tight race for Missoula County commissioner after elections judges finished counting the remaining ballots on Monday.
Landquist, a Lolo sheep rancher, received 38 percent of the tally, or 6,943 votes. Daneke, a union representative, received 37 percent, or 6,801 votes, according to unofficial election results.
The 42-vote gap is narrow enough to trigger a recount at no charge to the defeated candidate. Daneke has five days after the official primary canvass to request a recount. The canvass is scheduled for Tuesday at 9 a.m.
Although Landquist urged her opponent to make the request considering the slim disparity, Daneke said he had not yet decided.
On Monday, Missoula County elections staff finished counting the remaining 455 ballots left over from last week's primary election.
Provisional ballots, as they're called, have problems that need to be resolved.
For example, voters who forget identification at the polls cast provisional ballots. So do people who lose their absentee ballot and then want to vote on Election Day.
The election staff has six days to resolve any problems with these ballots. Provisional ballots are then counted all at once.
Typically, the late ballot count is unceremonious and low profile. But on Monday, at a room inside the Missoula County Courthouse, a small crowd gathered to watch six women place ballots into an automated machine.
It's the first time in Election Administrator
Vickie Zeier's 15-year career as head of Missoula County elections that anyone has shown interest in provisional ballot results.
That's because on primary night, the race for county commissioner unfolded like a pendulum, swinging back and forth between Landquist and Daneke with every return.
Jeff Patterson, a private investigator, trailed in the race, securing 23 percent of the total, or 4,232 votes.
At the end, Daneke led Landquist by only four votes. With more than 400 outstanding provisional ballots, the race hung in the balance.
Landquist described the anticipation of not knowing for six days who was victorious as: "It's like waiting for Christmas."
Landquist, Daneke and several of their supporters stood by as staff tabulated the unofficial totals.
At one point, even Republican Commissioner Larry Anderson poked his head in the hallway outside the county elections' office to check on the progress.
It looks as though Landquist will face off against Anderson, the incumbent, in November's general election. Anderson ran unopposed in the Republican primary.
It's hard for Landquist to point to a certain voter demographic that boosted her to the top. She does, however, denounce the theory that supporters of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton heavily favored the only woman candidate in the race for county commissioner.
There have been plenty of women commissioners in Missoula County's history, she said. It's hardly a new phenomenon.
If Landquist had to guess why she won, other than the many friends and family who supported her, she figures the "unfortunate nonsense" between Patterson and Mayor John Engen, Daneke's campaign treasurer, over political signs inside the city right-of-way probably earned her votes, she said.
The outcome is somewhat of a surprise considering Daneke significantly outspent Landquist leading up to the primary.
In the reporting period between January and mid-May, Daneke raised $9,789 to Landquist's $1,410. Daneke spent $8,058 to Landquist's $1,220.
Now, Landquist has $189 in the bank heading into the general election.
By comparison, Anderson has raised the most money in this race for county commissioner to date. In the same reporting period, Anderson, who ran unopposed in the primary election, raised $11,123 and spent $5,033.
Anderson has $6,089 heading into the general election.
Landquist expects to hold a campaign meeting with volunteers and supporters in the next several weeks to map out general election strategies. She imagines driving around the county this summer with a camper strapped to the top of her truck, stopping at campgrounds for "fireside chats," she said.
Until then, "I have sheep that need to be shorn desperately."