The five-candidate race to be the GOP nominee for U.S. House turned out to be the closest congressional contest in Montana’s Primary Election.
In unofficial results, Ryan Zinke garnered 33.09 percent of the vote, triumphing over Corey Stapleton with 29.26 percent, Matt Rosendale with 28.82 percent, Elsie Arntzen with 6.87 percent and Drew Turiano with 1.73 percent.
Turiano was ostracized by the state GOP for his extreme anti-immigrant views. Arntzen, a Billings state senator and elementary school teacher, entered the race later than all the other candidates and never caught up. So the contest was really between Zinke, a former state senator from Whitefish; Stapleton, a former state senator from Billings; and Rosendale, a state senator from Glendive.
Yellowstone County gave Stapleton an early lead. Republican ballots in Montana’s most populous county went 37.47 percent for Stapleton, 28.85 percent for Zinke and 21.05 percent for Rosendale.
Zinke won Flathead, Missoula and other larger population counties in Western Montana, but no counties east of Gallatin, according to information from the Secretary of State website. Stapleton and Rosendale split Eastern Montana and won small population counties throughout the state.
Zinke won despite being barraged with negative ads questioning his conservative credentials. Some prominent Republicans even called for party members to vote for anybody but Zinke.
“Now it’s time to unite together, not only as a party but as Montanans committed to solving our nation’s problems and getting our economy back on track,” Zinke said in a statement issued after Tuesday’s votes were counted.
On the Democratic side, John Lewis coasted to victory over John Driscoll. Lewis, who lives in Helena, previously worked for former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus. Lewis is making his first bid for elected office.
“This race will be about the future of Montana and sending someone who is accountable, responsible and willing to work together on solutions to make life better for all working families,” Lewis said in a Tuesday night statement.
No local reviews
Yellowstone County voters opted not to review their forms of local government. Not coincidentally, the proportion of voters opposing forming a review commission was highest on the county government issue, which included a property tax levy to pay for it. Opposition was less in Laurel, which proposed to allocate only a few thousand dollars for a study, and opposition was least on the Billings city government question, which included no funding at all. Laurel voters also resoundinly rejected a citywide levy for park improvements.
Early county returns
Yellowstone County voters were winners in this election. Voting and vote counting ran smoothly – in stark contrast to the hours-long waiting lines and five days of vote counting that occurred with the 2012 General Election.
“We had 90 percent counted by 8 p.m.,” Bret Rutherford, county elections administrator, said Wednesday morning. “It obviously was not 2012; we would still be counting.”
Only a couple dozen people registered to vote Tuesday, compared with hundreds in the last presidential election. The Elections Department revamped its procedures to shorten lines at MetraPark. Most importantly, the county has since purchased three new vote counting machines that don’t stop every time they detect an error or a crease. Instead, the new machines sort out ballots with errors and keep counting other ballots. The ballots rejected by the machine are examined by election judges and counted.
Election officials started counting nearly 32,000 mail ballots on Tuesday morning and had all counted by the time polls closed at 8 p.m., Rutherford said. Additionally, about 2,000 ballots were cast Tuesday at MetraPark and 13 other polling places in rural schools.
Yellowstone reported more results faster than any other county.
While Tuesday’s winners catch their breath and brace for General Election battles, we ask them to focus on the positive in their campaigns: Tell us what you would do if elected, rather than constantly bashing your opponent.
It is five months till the November election. Montanans don’t look forward to a summer and fall full of negative ads in the media or in their mailboxes. Give us a break! Tout your records and positions and explain how you will serve citizens of your county, legislative district and state.