Flathead Elections Officials Reviewing Ballot Mishap

Ballots for the 2023 Kalispell municipal general election are under review because they had not been updated to reflect updated precinct boundaries

By Tristan Scott
Sheriff’s deputies stand inside the Flathead County Election Department during the midterm election on Nov. 8, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Officials from the Flathead County Elections Department say that ballots mailed to voters for the Kalispell municipal elections were issued according to previous ward and precinct boundaries and had not been updated to reflect the new boundaries approved by the City Council in December 2021.

Blaming the mishap on a clerical mistake, officials said an as-yet undetermined number of voters in the Nov. 7 municipal elections would have received the wrong ballot.

“The Flathead County Election Office acknowledges this oversight raises concerns regarding a safe and accurate election process,” according to a Tuesday afternoon press release from Flathead County Public Information Officer Kim Grieser. “The elections department is fully aware of the gravity of the situation and is unwaveringly committed to ensuring error-free execution of our elections.”

The release continued: “Going forward, the County will continue to review, check, and double-check procedures. We will implement updates to prevent a recurrence of this incident. This serves as a poignant reminder of the paramount importance of maintaining the public’s trust in our electoral system and upholding the fundamental principles of fairness and transparency in all we do.”

The error only affects ballots in the Kalispell city election, in which six candidates are vying for three council seats in Wards 1, 2 and 3. Kalispell has four wards in total, with each ward encompassing multiple precincts. There are 42 precincts.

Election Manager Adrienne Chmelik told the Beacon on Tuesday night that election administrators first discovered the issue last Friday night and worked through the weekend to identify how many voters are affected and correct the error. However, with ballots already mailed, there wasn’t much that could be done.

“In late 2021, Kalispell changed its ward boundaries and that didn’t get plugged into our precinct maps,” Chmelik said. “So when we loaded the new ward boundaries, some voters didn’t get loaded into their correct wards. We’re working with our GIS department to layer in different maps, but it’s going to take time.”

When asked whether the ballots tallied during Tuesday’s election would be valid and legal, Chmelik said it depends, in part, on whether any of the races are contested.

“We’re looking into it,” she said, adding that results are never official until they are certified and canvassed by the Board of Commissioners.

“We are doing out best to figure out what happened,” Chmelik said. “I don’t think the county has been in this position before nor have we, so can’t really say what we will do. But right now, we’re focused on tallying every vote.

In response to this situation, Grieser said the election process will be managed as usual, listing the following bullet points in the county’s release:

  • Absentee voters should cast their votes using the ballots they received in the mail. Ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Night.
  • Poll voters will be issued a ballot at the Flathead County Fairgrounds Trade Center. Polls are open until 8 p.m.
  • Ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Night.
  • The Elections Department will continue to oversee ballot signature verification, acceptance, tabulation, election canvass, and the certification of candidates.
  • MCA Title 13, Chapter 26 outlines the relevant laws for contesting the nomination or election of an official.

“Research from the Flathead County Election Officials indicates that the ward and annexation records are accurate in the newly proposed countywide precinct maps,” according to the county’s press release. “Once the new precinct boundaries are presented and approved by the Board of Commissioners, the data will be entered into the ElectMT voter database.”

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