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Newcomers knocked out two incumbents - and possibly three - in closely fought Missoula City Council races, seating Caitlin Copple, Mike O'Herron and Adam Hertz, according to final unofficial election results Tuesday.

In Ward 2, Hertz eked out a win with three more votes than Councilwoman Pam Walzer; the close results mean an automatic recount in that race. Still, the young fiscal conservative credited a long list of family members for helping him get 957 votes to Walzer's 954.

"My mom and my dad and my wife and my aunt and my mother-in-law were great about putting signs out, and all my in-laws were great about spreading the word," said Hertz, a loan consultant.

In Wards 4 and 5, Copple and O'Herron ousted two strident critics of Missoula Mayor John Engen.

In Ward 4, Copple hammered out a win against Councilwoman Lyn Hellegaard in a much-lauded victory for progressives. Turnout in the ward was high, and Copple pulled in 52.7 percent to Hellegaard's 46.5 percent.

"I hope that the voters in Ward 4 know I will work just as hard as a councilwoman as I did on the campaign, so I'm excited to get started," Copple said.

After losing two years ago in Ward 5, Mike O'Herron bested Councilwoman Renee Mitchell. O'Herron, a planner for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, pulled in 55.5 percent of the vote to Mitchell's 43.8 percent.

"You know, I had a lot of support this time," O'Herron said. "I was more of a newcomer on the political scene two years ago, and I definitely built some support last time and worked from that platform to build more support. People got to know me better, and I networked better myself."

In Ward 3, Alex Taft will take over the seat Councilwoman Stacy Rye vacates in January. Rye didn't run again, and Taft, a retired city planner, coasted to victory with 74.2 percent of the votes. Paul Bohan earned 15.7 percent, and Sean Ives got 7.8 percent.

Missoula County elections administrator Vickie Zeier said turnout hit a high for a low-profile city election. She counted it at 50.9 percent and credited the energetic campaigns: "From what I can tell, the candidates worked really hard."

Turnout was especially high in Ward 4, and many people voting Tuesday at the fairgrounds were from that district, according to an elections official. Copple said she'd like to think it's because of her hard work, knocking on doors since sometime in July - and until 4 p.m. Tuesday. Reached at an evening celebration, she was excited and exhausted.

"My mom and my best friend are here from Idaho, so it's fun to have them here. Unless they bust out the karaoke machine, I don't know how much longer I'll last," Copple said.

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In other races, incumbents held strong. In Ward 1, Councilman Jason Wiener sledded to a decisive win against newcomer Maer Seibert, with 66.6 percent of the vote to Seibert's 32.2 percent. Wiener, a computer consultant and former chairman of the Missoula County Democrats, plans to continue his work on housing and transportation issues in his second term.

In Ward 6, council president Ed Childers notched another win with 55.8 percent of the vote. Peggy Miller earned 15 percent, and Shane Stack 28 percent. Childers, former city treasurer, is the longest-serving councilman currently seated and begins his fourth term in January.

Running unopposed, Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken earned 92.1 percent of the vote in Ward 2. Normally, just one seat in a ward is open. But Councilman Roy Houseman resigned his post last year in the district. The council appointed Wolken, a lawyer, to his seat, and appointees must run to finish out their terms.

Contested races in Ward 2 have a history of being close, and Zeier recalled at least two other recounts in recent years. The votes will be canvassed at 11 a.m. next Tuesday. After the canvass, a recount in the Hertz and Walzer race will be scheduled. No other races were close enough to be eligible for a recount.

Zeier also said two provisional ballots will be reviewed Wednesday, and the Elections Office will try to track down a "handful" of people who turned in ballots that were rejected because they didn't have signatures. Ballots must be signed by 5 p.m. Wednesday. She did not know if any of those votes were from Ward 2.

Councilors are sworn in January 2012. Every other year, six of 12 City Council seats are up for grabs. They serve for four years and are paid $12,767 annually.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.

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