Democrat Kendall Van Dyk said Wednesday he’s pulled off the upset of Republican Sen. Roy Brown by 16 votes and no official recount is necessary.
The challenger in Brown’s North Central Billings Senate District 25 led Brown by just one vote at midnight, but picked up 15 additional votes as counting continued until 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Van Dyk quickly released a statement Wednesday morning claiming his victory.
“The issue of the recount, the state has established parameters for what they think is reasonable to assume can be changed. Sixteen votes is not a lot, but in our small Senate district, it’s pretty reliable to say ‘yes, Kendal Van Dyk won this race,’” Van Dyk said.
However the election isn’t beyond question. State law allows candidates to petition for recount if the margin of victory is less than 0.50 percent.
Van Dyk’s victory margin is currently 0.26 percent. If the spread was just slightly less, 0.25 percent, it would also entitle Brown to a recount at the taxpayer’s expense. The last recount in Yellowstone County cost taxpayers $600 to $800, said Bret Rutherford, Yellowstone County elections officer.
The recount bill now falls on Brown. State law recognizes Van Dyk’s slim lead as a victory, but gives Brown a five-day window after the official state canvass to post bond and request a recount. If the final results were less than 0.25 percent, Brown would be off the hook for the costs.
Brown said he will wait until Monday to decide whether to challenge. That’s the day election officials will verify and count provisional ballots. Those ballots were mostly cast by last day voters who were either new to voting or new to the district in which they voted. The identities of the voters, as well as their proper districts need to be confirmed. Rutherford said there are 21 provisional ballots to be counted Monday in Senate District 25.
“I’ve been truly humbled and honored by the support I have received throughout this campaign,” Brown said in a written statement. “There are 21 remaining votes to be counted and the people of Senate District 25 deserve to have the process run its course. I am sure my opponent would agree that we need to ensure every vote is counted and everyone’s voice is heard.”
Those 21 provisional ballots are mostly from people who became voters in the district on Election Day, which makes it worth noting that Van Dyk launched an aggressive get out the vote effort, which was particularly intense Tuesday. Volunteers studied polling data as ballots were cast looking for people who hadn’t yet voted. The campaign then phoned non-voters and even knocked on doors to get them to the polls, Van Dyk said.
Brown has served in the Legislature since 1999, first in the House before winning election in the Senate. He was also the Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2008, but lost to Brian Schweitzer. It was that 2008 loss that led Democrats to believe the Republican could be vulnerable in his own Senate District 25, where Schweitzer won roughly two-thirds of the vote two years ago.