Judge Orders Partial Redo in Kalispell Municipal Election Following Clerical Error 

Results from November’s election will be nullified in Wards 1 and 2, with a redo election slated to occur in mid-May at the earliest

By Micah Drew
Kalispell City Council Chambers on March 16, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A Flathead County District Court judge has ruled that results in two of the Kalispell municipal election wards are nullified and a new election will be held.

The Feb. 16 order by Judge Robert Allison comes in response to a petition filed by Flathead County Election Administrator Debbie Pierson requesting the annulment of November’s election for city councilors due to a clerical error that sent incorrect ballots to roughly 8% of the city’s voters. While Pierson requested all four Ward results be annulled and held again, incumbent city councilor Ryan Hunter filed as an intervenor in the suit requesting that just two of the races be considered.

Hunter won the Ward 3 race by more than 350 votes and argued redoing his election would cause personal harm “in time, money and effort” required to run another campaign. He also sought to minimize the taxpayer burden of hosting a new election by requesting the results of the uncontested Ward 4 election, won by incumbent Sid Daoud, be allowed to stand.

Allison concluded that Hunter’s margin of victory in his Ward 3 race was wide enough that “whatever voting irregularities occurred … had no effect,” while the uncontested Ward 4 election did not meet legal requirements for nullification. The judge granted a nullification for the results of the Ward 1 and Ward 2 races, won by incumbent councilors Kari Gabriel and Sam Nunnally, respectively, and ordered the election be re-administered. The county election department will cover the cost of the new election.

Flathead County election department officials discovered the clerical error that led to nearly 1,500 voters receiving incorrect ballots a few days before the November election. Further investigation revealed that the ward boundaries approved by the city of Kalispell in 2021 had not been properly entered into the election system.

Of the 1,413 voters with incorrect ballots only 176 cast their votes, though Pierson stated in her petition that there was no way to know how many people refrained from voting upon hearing about the error or noticing they received an incorrect ballot.

According to county election manager Adrienne Chmelik, it will take a minimum of 85 days to administer a new election, pushing the redo into mid-May at the earliest. The timeline could be affected by upcoming school, special district and primary elections the department is tasked with carrying out as well.

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