Montana’s municipal election day is now just two months away. On Nov. 5, voters will choose new city leaders for Helena and East Helena, and they will decide how elections in Lewis and Clark County will be run going forward.
Voters will elect two members of the Helena City Commission. Five names will be on the ballot: incumbents Ed Noonan and Kali Wicks, and candidates Emily Dean, Sean Logan and Greg Painter.
A sixth candidate, Kayt Bonahoom, withdrew from the race earlier in the summer. However, another candidate, Katie Ryan, filed as a write-in choice on Tuesday – the deadline to register as an official write-in.
The top two vote-getters will win seats on the commission.
Helena voters will also choose a municipal court judge. The two candidates are Anne Peterson – who was appointed to the position earlier this year – and Jack Morris.
In East Helena, Kelly Harris and Liza Zeigler are running for a city council seat representing Ward Two – the area north of Riggs Street. That seat is currently held by Mike Misowic.
In Ward One – East Helena south of Riggs – no candidates filed to appear on the ballot or run as registered write-ins. That meant the East Helena City Council could have chosen to cancel the election for that seat, currently held by Kit Johnson. Instead, they decided to hold the election as planned.
Audrey McCue, Lewis and Clark County’s elections supervisor, said that means county election officials will have to count all write-in votes. The person with the most write-in votes who is qualified for the office can fill the position, if they file a declaration of acceptance and pay a filing fee of $40.80.
If any candidate officially files for an election – either appearing on the ballot or as a write-in – state law says election officials can only count write-in votes for registered candidates. That rule doesn’t apply if no one at all registers.
East Helena Mayor Jamie Schell said he believes no election should be canceled, even if it is uncontested, because voters deserve to have input. He said this situation highlights the power of that input.
“That makes it even more important that we didn’t cancel the election,” he said.
Finally, all voters in Lewis and Clark County will weigh in on whether county officials should be chosen through nonpartisan elections.
Currently, candidates for county commission, sheriff-coroner, county attorney, treasurer-clerk and recorder, county superintendent of schools and district court clerk run with party labels and go through partisan primary elections. If voters approve a change to nonpartisan elections, all candidates for an office will file for a single election. If enough candidates take part, a primary will be held and the top two finishers will move on to the general election.
November’s elections in Lewis and Clark County will be conducted entirely by mail. Ballots are scheduled to be mailed out on Oct. 16. McCue said people should register to vote by Oct. 7 to receive a mail ballot.