Voters trickled into the elections center on Tuesday to cast their ballots for the Missoula City Council’s primary election, producing a turnout of just under 30 percent by noon.
Three candidates are vying for a seat in Wards 1, 3 and 4, though today’s primary will reduce that number two ahead of November. Two of those wards include incumbents seeking reelection, while the Ward 4 race features three newcomers.
“We mailed out just over 19,000 ballots,” said Dayna Causby, the Missoula County elections supervisor. “So far today, at 11 a.m. on Election Day, we’ve received almost 5,700 ballots.”
The county issued 6,986 absentee ballots in Ward 1 and 27.5 percent had been returned by 11 a.m.. Around 6,148 ballots were issued in Ward 3, though just 24 percent had been returned by voters before noon.
Ward 4 saw 6,143 absentee ballots issued and a return rate of 37 percent. The three wards combined had a turnout of 29.5 percent before noon, though Causby expects that number to increase throughout the day.
“That’s right at our target number,” said Causby. “In this type of election, 30 percent is a pretty decent number for a city municipal primary, all local with only one thing to vote on.”
Voters also are casting ballots at three polling places, one for each ward, until 8 p.m.
While the race is nonpartisan, Missoula County Republicans made a concerted push to recruit and promote candidates in each ward, in hopes of changing the composition of the City Council. Missoula County Democrats also endorsed a new crop of candidates, intent on retaining their majority.
Tuesday night’s outcome will set the stage for November, when one seat in all six city wards will appear on the ballot. Each ward will appear with two candidates.
“We won’t release results until 8 p.m.,” said Causby. “But there will also be some ballots to pick up at 8 p.m., and it will take about an hour for those to get processed. It’s going to be at least 9 p.m. before we have our final results.”
However, Causby said, early returns will be released at 8 p.m. In past years, that return closely mirrored the final outcome.
Voters who didn’t request and mail a ballot must return their ballot or vote in person at one of the three designated polling places by 8 p.m. or at the county’s election centers at the Missoula County Fairgrounds and the Missoula County courthouse.
The three polling stations are at Rattlesnake Elementary School (Ward 1), the Missoula Senior Center (Ward 3) and Lewis and Clark Elementary School (Ward 4).
Candidates vying in each ward include:
Ward 1: Amber Shaffer; Elizabeth Weaver; Heidi West
Ward 3: Dakota Hileman; Drew Iverson; Gwen Jones
Ward 4: Alan Ault; Amber Sherrill; Greg Strandberg