Recount verifies election results
November 23, 2023
Sanders County Elections staff on Wednesday conducted a recount of two municipal races. The votes for Thompson Falls City Council seats in Ward 1 and Ward 3 were recounted at the Sanders County Courthouse. While one count was changed by one vote, the overall results did not change with the recount.
According to state law, a candidate can file for a recount within five days after the official canvass if the candidate is defeated by a margin of less than one-quarter of 1% or 10 or fewer votes. The official canvass for the municipal elections in the county was conducted on November 14.
Gunner Junge petitioned for a recount in Ward 3. In the Nov. 7 election, Junge lost to incumbent council person Hayley Allen-Blakney by eight votes, 81 to 73. Catherine DeWitt asked for the recount in Ward 1. Incumbent Raoul Ribeiro received 58 votes in the election and DeWitt 52 votes.
"The mail-in process is rife with issues," Junge said Wednesday before the recount started. When asked why he requested a recount, he responded "to try to build some trust and allay some fears." He added that he has "never had any reservations about our elections staff" in Sanders County. DeWitt said she waffled with the decision to request a recount. "I thought there was reasonable double and felt like I owed it to the people who supported me," she said.
Sanders County Commissioners John Holland, Dan Rowan and John Holland, as the recount board members for the county, conducted the recount by hand. First they accompanied Election Administrator McKenna Wallace to transport the box of all the ballots from the November 7 election from the election office to the commissioners' conference room. From there, the commissioners sorted the ballots by ward, and then validated the total number of ballots cast per ward. Then the commissioners counted ballots by who was voted on the ballot.
The recount of Ward 1 ballots was completed first. In the canvass, 110 voted ballots were certified with one under-voted ballot that the ES&S DS850 ballot tabulator machine read as blank, for a total of 111 ballots. The voter marked the ballot with a faint "X" in blue pen instead of completely filling the circle as instructed on the ballot. Commissioners agreed the ballot was cast for DeWitt. In the recount, the commissioners verified 111 ballots with 58 votes for Ribeiro and 53 votes for DeWitt.
In the Ward 3 recount, commissioners verified 154 ballots were cast. After the votes had been tallied, they arrived at the same number of votes for Allen-Blakney (81) and Junge (73) as were counted on election night.
Wallace explained each step of the process on Wednesday to the 10 community members observing the recount. The public was allowed to ask questions as well, and June and DeWitt, as the recount requestors, could go up to the recount table and closely observe the actions of the commissioners.
After the recount, DeWitt said she was satisfied with the results. She said she had called Ribeiro before requesting the recount as she was making her decision. Junge said he also spoke with Allen-Blakney. "This gives a better understanding of the process," DeWitt said after the recount. Junge said it provided reassurance of the election system.