Julie Armstrong has withdrawn from her bid for a second Missoula City Council term, citing the added expense of having to participate in a primary election.
Armstrong said she planned to run until the council decided on June 19 that they would hold a primary in the four wards in which three or more candidates were running for office. After researching her opponents in Ward 5 — John Contos and Alex Fregerio — Armstrong decided they both were suitable candidates.
“With a primary, you have to spend money twice, and that’s hard for people in general,” Armstrong said.
She wasn’t at the June 19 meeting, in which the council voted 9-1, with Jesse Ramos being the sole dissenting vote, to hold four primaries at an estimated cost of $51,000 to the taxpayers.
But on July 1, Armstrong sent an email to Missoula County Elections Administrator Dayna Causby, asking when the last day was to withdraw her name from the ballot. That’s when Armstrong learned she couldn’t be dropped because under state statute, the last day for candidates to withdraw from a primary was June 17.
That was two days before the council’s vote to hold the primary.
“It was squirrely with the timing. I thought I had until Aug. 1 to get out of the race,” Armstrong said on Tuesday. “The only way to get out, to be disqualified, is to move out of your ward, not having a voting registration record, or not paying your fees. So I put a stop payment on my check.”
That move on the $154.78 check worked.
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Causby said she conferred with the county attorney and the Commission on Political Practice offices, and was told that not paying the filing fee effectively disqualified Armstrong from the race.
“The primary seems unnecessary in my opinion,” Armstrong said. “Withdrawing was the easiest and simplest way for one of those two gentlemen to serve.”
Causby said she still plans to hold a primary in Ward 5, even with the two candidates.
“It’s not required by law to have a primary, even if there are three candidates. The City Council voted for them to conduct the primary,” Causby said. “Just because somebody no longer is qualified doesn’t take away that vote.”
Yet late Tuesday, City Clerk Marty Rehbein’s office issued a notice of a special City Council meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday to cancel the nonpartisan mail ballot primary in Ward 5. That’s estimated to save taxpayers about $10,000.
The meeting will be held in the City Council chambers at 140 W. Pine St.
Hours before the June 19 meeting, Mayor John Engen sent a letter to the council, pushing for primaries in wards with more than three candidates. He said the primary would eliminate “the potential outcome of a candidate taking a seat without a majority.”
At the time, Ramos alleged that the vote in favor of the primary, as well as the mayor’s note, was done for “political purposes” and to “thin out the crowd” so two competing liberal candidates wouldn’t split the vote and inadvertently help a conservative candidate get elected.