Few voters turn out, museum levy approved 

Not many voters turned out for Tuesday’s primary, but those who did contributed to its lopsided results.

Missoula County voters approved a levy for the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula by a margin of two to one. The levy will appropriate two mils, or about $290,000, to the 27-year-old institution which previously scrambled for funds within the annual county budget.

Under-sheriff Mike McMeekin prevailed in an understated campaign that pitted a trio of experienced candidates against each other in a primary contest to replace outgoing Sheriff Doug Chase. McMeekin collected nearly 60 percent of the Democratic votes. The Republican Party did not field a candidate.

U.S. Senate hopeful Mike Taylor clobbered his three Republican opponents by a margin of four to one and earned a chance to take on Democrat Max Baucus, the incumbent, next fall. Likewise, Democrat Steve Kelly out-polled his sole opponent three to one in a bid to challenge Republican Dennis Rehberg, the incumbent U.S. representative.

The only close result from Tuesday’s balloting was a levy for 12 1/2 mils in Bonner to purchase, rent and repair technological equipment for the school district. Voters rejected the request, 174 to 150. The levy would have added $43.25 to the property taxes of a $100,000 home.

Many races were uncontested, including the de facto reelection of Clerk and Recorder Vicki Zeier, who will face no Republican opponent in the fall, and the respective nominations of Democrat Phoebe Patterson and Republican Barbara Evans, the incumbent, as candidates for county commissioner.

Voter turnout barely cleared 14 percent, a decrease from past years amplified somewhat by inactive voters and the registration of new voters, according to Zeier, but still below normal as measured by the number of absolute votes. Only 10,562 people cast ballots this year.

“In the same primary four years ago, we counted over 12,000 ballots,” Zeier said.

Two years ago during a primary in which voters faced three separate requests for a total of seven mils, a levy proposed jointly by the Historical Museum and the Art Museum failed by 770 votes, a margin “emblazoned” in the mind of Director Robert Brown. “We took a big hit,” Brown said. “I lost two part-time staff, cut hours and raised prices.”

If voters had not supported the levy this time, Brown wasn’t sure he could rally support for another attempt. Brown said he expects to improve maintenance at the 32-acre facility, add more exhibits, increase personnel, and waive fees previously assessed to visiting schoolchildren.

“We would also like to be open one evening a week for free,” Brown said.

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