In the world of political hokey pokey, Alan Ault was in for Missoula’s Ward 4 City Council race, then he was out, and now he’s apparently back in.
But it will take a vote by the City Council to determine whether there will or will not be a primary in his ward.
City Clerk Marty Rehbein said she received a letter late Monday from Jeff Mangan, the commissioner of political practices, saying that only 15 candidates satisfied the reporting requirements. Ault was the sole candidate in the Missoula council race who failed to file the paperwork within the deadline allocated under state law.
But Ault said he was on the phone with the COPP office by 8 a.m. Tuesday, and after faxing the required paperwork, he’s back on the ballot.
“They’re sending a revised letter to the City Council,” Ault said.
Mangan said that under state law, candidates are required to file paperwork with his office declaring their candidacy within five days of filing with the county election offices. Every year, candidates from across the state fail to make that deadline.
However, candidates still have until June 27 to get Mangan’s office the necessary documentation, he added. In the past, candidates who missed the five-day filing deadline usually paid a negotiated fine in the $100 range.
“We try our darnedest to have a list so we can work with the administration and make sure the candidates are doing what’s appropriate,” Mangan said on Tuesday. “He (Ault) filed on the 11th (with the county), and based on the paperwork he should have filed with us by the 18th. This morning he faxed a copy dated the 19th. So he has filed with us, but he filed late.
"He’s still eligible to be on the ballot.”
The council voted Monday night to hold primary races on Sept. 10 only in Wards 1, 3 and 5, where three candidates are vying for the single council seat that’s available this year. Ward 4 initially also was slated for a primary, but that was dropped since without Ault, only two candidates were running in that race.
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Council President Bryan von Lossberg wrote in an email that he's not sure how they'll proceed now that Ault has filed the proper paperwork and three people are back on the Ward 4 ballot.
"Council's action was informed by official notification from both the COPP's office and the county election administrator," von Lossberg wrote. "When or if we receive new information, we'll see how to address any issue."
Dayna Causby, the county's election administrator, said Monday night’s vote to drop one of the primaries would have lowered the estimated cost from $51,000 to $41,000.
“That’s mainly because there would be about 10,000 fewer ballots going out,” Causby said. “But that’s a ballpark figure; when I get asked for those estimates, I do my best to be fairly accurate.”
She added that while the Missoula council voted to only hold primaries in three wards Monday night, Mangan's office sent her and the city a letter Tuesday morning saying Ault qualified to be on the ballot, and she's preparing for the four primaries until she hears differently.
"If the COPP says (Ault) had until the 27th and he's good to go now, then he's going to be on the ballot," Causby said. "The city council doesn't get to decide who is on the ballot. They can decide what wards they want in the primaries, but they have to have him on the ballot."
Council members voted last week to hold a primary in the four wards that had three candidates, saying that narrowing the field to two candidates in each ward would eliminate the potential outcome of a candidate taking a seat without winning the majority vote.
Ault is taking the kerfuffle in stride.
“This is all good because I’m going to get some free publicity out of this if the City Council puts just my name in as an addendum” to hold the Ward 4 primary, Ault said with a chuckle. “I wonder how that vote will go.”
A special City Council meeting on the primary has been called for 12:10 p.m. on Wednesday, June 26.