Hot-button issues spur high county voter turnout; Zinke wins

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Nov. 10—Two hot-button issues and races for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and one on the Montana Supreme Court helped drive an extraordinary Lincoln County voter turnout.

According to county Election Administrator Paula Buff, voters turned in 6,419 absentee ballots for a 73% return rate.

"That was more than all of the ballots cast in June's primary election," Buff said in the early-morning hours of Wednesday, July 9.

Indeed, in the June 6 primary, about 38% of registered voters in the county cast ballots.

Overall, according to the Montana Secretary of State website, about 61.4% of Lincoln County registered voters cast ballots in Tuesday's general election.

According to unofficial results from the county, in the race for the U.S. House of Representatives First District seat, former U.S. Rep. and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke collected 6,605 votes to Democratic challenger Monica Tranel's 2,193. Overall, 9,243 ballots were cast in the county, the most for any race.

Zinke claimed the seat on Thursday after getting 50% of the vote. Democratic challenger Monica Tranel received 46% while Libertarian John Lamb had 4%.

Republican Matt Rosendale also won his race for the U.S. House of Representatives District 2 seat.

Legislative Referendum 131, which ultimately failed, would have provided legal protections for born-alive infants by imposing criminal penalties on health care providers who do not act to preserve the life of such infants, including children born during an attempted abortion, saw 8,867 ballots cast. That total was second-most in the county. Voters chose "yes" 5,787 times, but it didn't pass after 231,729 voters across the state said "no."

Constitutional Amendment 48, if approved by voters, would protect electronic data and communications from unreasonable search and seizures. It drew 8,730 votes, third among county voters. "Yes" was the overwhelming choice with 7,380 votes.

The state Supreme Court Justice race between incumbent Ingrid Gustafson and challenger James Brown drew the f0urth most ballots, 8,562. Brown collected 4,804 votes in the county to Gustafson's 3,732.

However, Gustafson retained her seat by getting more than 37,000 votes than Brown.

In the other state Supreme Court race, Jim Rice collected 5,679 votes to best Bill D'Alton who had 1,921.

Locally, there were no surprises.

District 1 County Commissioner Brent Teske collected 6,890 votes while Stu Crismore, a write-in candidate, had 963.

Also, District Judge Matt Cuffe was retained. In state races, District 1 Sen. Mike Cuffe, District 1 Rep. Steve Gunderson and District 2 Rep. Neil A. Duran each won uncontested races.

In the county, District Commissioner Jim C. Hammons, Clerk and Recorder Robin Benson, Sheriff Darren Short, Coroner Steven Schnackenberg, Attorney Marcia Boris, Superintendent of Schools Taralee McFadden, Treasurer Sedaris Carlberg each won uncontested races with lopsided vote totals.

For the Public Administrator position, Libby resident Amanda Eckart filed as a write-in candidate and received 839 votes. Eckart currently serves as a Deputy Clerk in the Lincoln County Clerk and Recorder's Office.

Also, Justice of the Peace Jay Sheffield ran unopposed and was reelected.

Buff said she was pleased with how well the process went.

"It takes a village to pull it off," she said. "We're now over 15,000 registered voters and we had a good turnout, so there is a lot of work to do.

"I felt things went smoothly, the election judges did a good job counting ballots and making sure the numbers matched the ones from the tabulator," Buff said. "We're also appreciative of the law enforcement agencies in the county for helping transport ballots and performing walk throughs of the polling places. I feel the entire group, maintenance is a killer team and it was great to see everyone come together to get it done."

Buff said at a ballot tabulator testing session in October that she hoped the ballots would be counted and numbers released by 2 a.m. As it turned out, the counting was done at about 1:26 p.m.

Buff said provisional ballots will likely be counted by next Tuesday while the election will be certified after the canvass is complete on Nov. 21.