Missoula City Council says ‘no’ to primary election

Ward 3 Councilwoman Gwen Jones on Wednesday expresses her opinion that Missoulians need a break from elections and shouldn’t have to vote in a September primary for local elections. (Katy Spence/Missoula Current)

Despite the full slate of candidates running for local office this fall, the city of Missoula will not hold primary elections in September, opting instead to save the money and spare voters another trip to the polls.

Citing both statute requirements and monetary concerns, no one on the City Council moved to adopt a resolution to hold any primaries during a Committee of the  Whole meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Missoula County election administrator Rebecca Connors recommended to the council that a primary election not be held for any of this fall’s municipal races, citing a statute that mandates a primary only when there are two races with four or more people, or when there is one race with five or more people.

Unless a large number of people file to run, City Council could pick and choose which wards hold primaries, if any, she said.

While there are four candidates running in Ward 4, all the other races feature three or fewer candidates. Filing for municipal offices ended on Monday.

The city’s budget for holding a primary in one ward is $19,000, and the budget for a citywide primary is $76,000.

Several council members expressed the desire to spend the money elsewhere, including Ward 4 council member Jon Wilkins, who faces three opponents in November’s general election. Wilkins’ is the only race with four candidates, and he expressed no interest in a primary election to winnow that number down before November.

“I don’t care to see the city spend all that money,” Wilkins said.

No other candidates for public office came to Wednesday’s meeting. City Council members acknowledged that the meeting’s agenda was publicly available if any other candidates wanted to comment.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Gwen Jones said there shouldn’t be a primary election in September because the past year has been so busy for Missoulians.

“2016 was a huge election year, and in Montana, in late winter, we went into another election cycle,” Jones said. “I think people would just like to have a vote in November and take a break because it’s been a long haul.”

Filing for public office opened on April 20 and ran until June 19. During that time, 20 people filed to run for seven seats on the city council, municipal judge and mayor. For a full list of filed candidates and offices, please click here.

Katy Spence is an environmental journalism graduate student at the University of Montana, and is working this summer for Missoula Current.