A day after a record turnout at the polls, the primary race for the Missoula County commissioner Democratic nomination remained undecided - with no likelihood of resolution until early next week.
Two Lolo Democrats remain neck-and-neck for the chance to challenge Republican incumbent Commissioner Larry Anderson in November's general election.
Only four votes separate Michele Landquist and Dennis Daneke. With all precincts reporting, the final unofficial results released after Tuesday's press deadline showed Daneke leading with 6,818 votes, or 37.96 percent, to Landquist's 6,814 votes, or 37.94 percent.
Jeff Patterson of Turah, who also ran in the race for county commissioner, trailed with 4,191 votes, or 23 percent. He filed as a Democrat after having been one of the Republican finalists last year to fill the vacant seat left open by longtime Republican Commissioner Barbara Evans.
Anderson was appointed to finish out Evans' six-year term. He ran unopposed in the primary.
Now a recount in the Democratic primary race looks inevitable.
The Missoula County Elections Office has at least 400 ballots still to count; it has until Monday to resolve the provisional ballots cast in Tuesday's election.
Provisional ballots are those in which there was a problem at the time the elector voted.
Either the voter forgot identification, registered late in Missoula County after having registered elsewhere, or lost their absentee ballots and so voted at a neighborhood polling location.
It's the Missoula County elections staff's job to verify that these voters didn't cast ballots twice, either in a different county or with an absentee ballot.
"I have to contact many counties," said Missoula County Elections Administrator Vickie Zeier. "There's a lot of research that needs to be done before Monday at 3 p.m."
Meanwhile, Daneke and Landquist are catching up on things that fell by the wayside during the campaign.
On Wednesday, Daneke drove around in the rain collecting his campaign yard signs, and trying to make sense of the outcome.
"My team will be putting our thoughts together and figuring out how we mis-called it," said Daneke who polled Democrats and Independents by phone leading up to the primary. "The response - I mean they could have been lying to us - but everyone was overwhelmingly going to vote for me."
It's hard to know where things went wrong, Daneke said. Maybe all the Hillary Clinton supporters voted for Landquist. Maybe a nasty letter to the editor published in the Missoulian dealt the campaign a blow, he said. Daneke suspects Patterson may have pulled some votes away from him because both are more moderate.
"Certainly you want to figure out what you did and didn't do right," he said.
Despite his surprise, Daneke is neither nervous nor anxious for Monday's results, but "curious," he said.
In the meantime, Daneke will take some time off, relax with his wife and go fishing. For a busy man who typically works 60 hours a week, and 80 hours during the campaign, "Monday will be here in a blink of an eye," he said.
"When I get back, we are going to elect a new county commissioner," he said. "We certainly need some leadership on the board of county commissioners."
When asked whether he thought the board lacked leadership now, Daneke replied, "I kinda insinuated that."
He only had positive comments about his opponents and thanked them for running a positive campaign.
"I have nothing derogatory to say about either one," he said. "All campaigns should be like this."
After Tuesday, Landquist had only four fingernails remaining. She chewed the rest off watching election returns.
"I've learned not to count your chickens until they hatch," said Landquist, who suspected a close race when she started to receive phone calls from undecided voters with questions the week before the primary.
Until Monday, Landquist plans to keep busy.
"My best therapy is playing the piano," she said. "I can let my fingers take a stroll on the ivories and lose track of time. If this rain lets up, I have some seeds to get into the ground as I wait for a few numbers to go either way."
All day Wednesday, Landquist took phone calls from well-wishers, and corrected friends who jumped the gun by calling her "commissioner."
"So many people are delighted," said Landquist, who said she was pleased and grateful for the support from folks. "I've been setting people straight. I think it's killing my friends and supporters more than it is me."
Recounts in Missoula County are fairly uncommon, but in recent years, there have been several high-profile recounts here and statewide.
Last November, Missoula County held a recount on the contentious Seeley Lake Water District bond measure, which ultimately passed by just two votes.
There was a recount on whether to create a Bonner/Milltown community council in May 2006. Less than a year earlier, there was a recount between the second- and third-place candidates in the race for mayor of Missoula.
In November 2006, there were two recounts of legislative races in Yellowstone County and Jefferson County to determine the makeup of the state House.
Then, there was the 2004 legislative race recount in Lake County between Democrat Jeanne Windham and Constitution Party member Rick Jore, which the state Supreme Court ultimately decided. Control of the Montana House hung on the outcome of that race, which went to Windham.
Often high voter turnout spreads the margin between winners and losers. Missoula County had a 54-percent voter turnout in the primary election, which is high. So, to have a close race with so many voting is fairly uncommon, said Debbe Merseal, chief deputy election administrator.
It's possible the number of provisional ballots could increase slightly if absentee ballots sent to military personnel trickle in, Zeier said.
The Missoula Board of County Commissioners is scheduled to canvass the election on Tuesday. The defeated candidate then has five days to request a recount.
If the race is within 10 votes, or a quarter of 1 percent of the total votes cast, the candidate can request a recount at no cost to himself, Zeier said. If the vote spread is greater, the candidate would incur the costs.
Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.