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Primary Results: Gale Decker prevails in commission race

by KRISTI NIEMEYER
Editor | June 5, 2024 12:00 AM

According to unofficial results released Wednesday morning by the Lake County Election Office, 8,968 ballots were cast in Tuesday’s primary election – that's 42.17% voter turnout (just over 55% turnout among active voters). 

Of those, 6,005 were on the Republican ticket; 2,847 voted the Democratic ballot; 18 were Green and 29 voted Libertarian.

County Commissioner Gale Decker handily won the Republican primary with 44.75% of the vote. The unofficial tally of all 22 precincts showed Decker with 2,421 votes to 1,416 for Wes Baertsch, 925 for Max Krantz and 630 for Josh Senecal.

Decker faces Independent Kelly McDonald in the general election.

Senecal filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Political Practices March 1, raising the issue of residency in the election. He alleged that since Decker resides in Polson instead of within the boundaries of District 3, which covers Ronan, he’s not eligible to represent the district under Montana Code 7-4-2104. Decker has responded that he owns and maintains property in Ronan, pays taxes, votes and maintains a post office box there, and taught in Ronan schools for more than 30 years. 

Commissioner of Political Practices Chris Gallus, in an opinion issued June 5, found that while Decker does not reside in Ronan, he did not knowingly make a false declaration when he filed his Oath of Candidacy for office. He also wrote that Decker is not "a frivolous candidate" and that it's not within his power to remove his name from the 2024 ballot. That authority resides withe the Secretary of State, the issue may be pursued in District Court.

There were no challengers from other political parties for the remaining open seats in the Courthouse, so incumbents Kendra Steele (Clerk and Recorder), Mary Rensvold (Clerk of District Court) and Erika Jennison (Treasurer/Assessor) all retain their positions.  

Former Judge Deborah "Kim" Christopher, who announced her retirement from the bench in March, remained on the ballot for the 20th Judicial District, vs. Polson attorney Britt Cotter. She received 2,779 votes vs. Cotter's 4,519. Judge Molly Owen, the sole candidate for Department 1 of the Judicial District, received 6,931 votes.

Legislative races

Lake County’s only contested legislative race in the primary election was between Democratic candidates Jacinda Morigeau and CB Pearson for Senate District 46, which includes the southern portion of Lake County and a large slice of Missoula County.

Morigeau, who lives in Arlee, bested Pearson with 76% of the vote in Lake County – 453 to 142. Her overall margin was 1,759 to 1,501.

She’ll face Republican candidate Charles Headley in the general election. He received 2,169 votes in the primary, with 871 coming from Lake County.  

These are the tallies for the remaining legislative races in Lake County (all primary candidates were unopposed):

Senate District 7: incumbent Greag Hertz, 1987; Democrat Craig Pablo, 884

House District 12: Democrat Barry Olson, 527; Republican Tracy Sharp, 1,139

House District 13: incumbent Republican Linda Reksten, 1,902; Democrat Shirley Assopardi, 899

House District 15: Republican Ralph Foster, 685; Democrat Thedis Crowe, 404

House District 92: Democrat Shelly Fyant, 553; incumbent Republican Joe Read, 940

Government Review

Voters in each of Lake County’s incorporated towns approved establishing Local Government Review Commissions: 654 for and 605 against in Polson; 81 in favor and 54 opposed in St. Ignatius; and 185 in favor and 163 opposed in Ronan.

Now, voters in community will elect a five-member study commission in November to study their local form of government; any changes recommended by the commission will also require voter approval.

Almost 54% of voters across Lake County voted against scrutinizing county government by a margin of 4,176 against to 3,603 in favor.

For results in statewide and federal races, visit electionresults.mt.gov.