This story has been corrected to reflect the status of 23 ballots that were undecipherable by voting machines. A board resolved those ballots on election night, and they are part of the current vote totals. Those ballots would be reevaluated in a recount.
A week after the Missoula City Council election, Ward 6 may still be up in the air.
The race between Sandra Vasecka and Nick Shontz hinged on just 12 votes after initial counts on Election Day. Vasecka’s tiny lead was barely within the .5% threshold for an optional recount, with the 12-vote margin equating to a .49% gap.
Two ballots of a total of six rejected in the ward were resolved and counted Tuesday evening, with one going to Shontz, and one going to Vasecka, maintaining a gap within the optional recount threshold.
Now it's up to Shontz to make the call.
Shontz has until Tuesday, Nov. 19, to make a decision on whether to call for a recount, and there are some complicating factors. Vasecka's slim win for the seat would be one of two that appeared to flip to conservative candidates, which would make a total of three on the 12-member council.
Shontz, the candidate endorsed by the local Democratic Party committee, said early Tuesday he was waiting until after the final numbers came in to make a decision on whether to ask for a recount. He didn't return a call Tuesday after the count.
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Missoula County Elections Administrator Dayna Causby said Tuesday she estimated the cost of a recount to be about $2,000, which Shontz or his campaign would need to cover.
Under Montana law, he would have to pay for the cost of staffing the recount operation. If the vote threshold had dropped into the mandatory recount threshold of less than a quarter of a percent, the recount would happen automatically and be paid for by Missoula County.
With only about $200 left in his campaign war chest, according to the most recent campaign finance forms from Nov. 4, that might not be an easy decision for Shontz.
Causby also said there are 23 ballots from Ward 6 that the counting machines couldn't decipher on election night. Those were resolved by an independent board that night and are included in the current vote totals. In a recount, they would be reevaluated.
If Shontz doesn't ask for a recount, Vasecka’s lead holds up and it will be the first time a conservative candidate is headed to a seat in Ward 6 in at least a decade. However, the flip wouldn't be completely unexpected, as the ward has trended steadily less liberal in the last three municipal elections.
Vasecka, a “Team Liberty” candidate recruited for the race by Councilor Jesse Ramos, ran on a platform of cutting spending through a zero-based budgeting system, but has said during the campaign that she would not make any cuts to first responders, public safety, or infrastructure.
She also opposes the use of tax-increment financing through the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. TIF, a tool for subsidizing public and private development to mitigate urban decay, has been scrutinized for keeping huge sums of property tax money out of the city’s general fund and subsidizing developers at taxpayer expense.
Both candidates in the race were newcomers, though Shontz has served on the Franklin to the Fort Neighborhood leadership team, and during the campaign built a website to help track city spending on TIF projects.