MISSOULA -- Denise Juneau’s lead in the race for state superintendent of public instruction got a small bump Tuesday when the Missoula County Elections Office finished counting provisional and other remaining ballots.
Juneau, the incumbent Democrat, gained 1,041 votes, and Republican Sandy Welch pulled in 436, according to numbers from elections administrator Vickie Zeier.
Zeier said a small selection of ballots that needed to be counted by hand would be added to the totals later in the evening before Missoula County reported outcomes to the Montana Secretary of State Office.
Secretary of State spokeswoman Terri McCoy said 5,515 provisional ballots were to be counted across Montana on Tuesday, including 2,043 from Missoula County. Typically, an estimated 95 percent are successfully resolved and counted, but McCoy said the state would not have final tallies from all counties until Wednesday afternoon.
Going into the Tuesday count, Juneau had a 0.3 percent edge in the race, and early Tuesday evening, she led with 234,012 votes to Welch’s 232,497, according to figures from the state’s election website. If Juneau’s gain doesn’t push past 0.5 percent, a recount is likely; Welch has started raising money for one and is examining the process.
Online, the results from Missoula were met with a smattering of applause by a couple of fans of Juneau; one woman who identifies herself as a Democrat in Montana also questioned the wisdom of a recount by Welch.
“The math can’t be good for Welch. She needs to give up,” wrote Norma Duffy, or @ILikeWoods, in a tweet.
In Montana, candidates may request and pay for a recount if the margin of votes is within 0.5 percent; the recount is automatic if it’s 0.25 or less, and it takes place after the state vote canvass.
In Missoula, the counting Tuesday took place at the fairgrounds, and rivals rooting for Juneau and Welch witnessed the process, albeit without rivalry. Dan Stusek, a volunteer for Welch, wasn’t keen on learning a chunk of the total provisional ballots were cast in Missoula County.
“Looking at it completely objectively, I’d rather not have heard that information,” Stusek said.
At the same time, Stusek said he wasn’t shocked to see a lot of voters from Missoula, given the large number of people registering to vote on Election Day: “With the zoo that was here, it doesn’t surprise me.”
He and the Juneau supporters from the Montana Democratic Party weren’t strangers, and they chatted as election judges counted.
“We’ve been friendly adversaries for years,” Stusek said.
Tyler Campbell of the Montana Democratic Party agreed: “If you go to school in Montana, you kind of meet everyone. Obviously, you’re Montanans first and political parties second.”
The final counting took just a couple of hours. Election judges and sometimes Zeier loaded ballots into a big machine, and it stopped whenever a ballot had a write-in candidate or a voter had scratched out one bubble and filled in another one.
“Tom Cruise,” said Zeier, as she read one write-in candidate for the Board of County Commissioners.
One crew handled write-ins, and another reviewed the ballots where voters had made extra marks. Dori Brownlow, senior deputy Missoula County attorney, said one person had voted just one race on the entire four-page ballot.
“They only voted the president and nothing else,” Brownlow said.