HELENA – Helena voters backed candidates who promised to take city government in a more progressive direction in Tuesday’s election.
Wilmot Collins, a child protection specialist with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, will become Helena’s next mayor, after defeating four-term incumbent Jim Smith in a narrow race. He received just over 51 percent of the vote.
Collins thanked the voters of Helena and said he intends to work for the people.
“I’m here for them, and I’ll be listening to them over the next few weeks,” Collins said.
Smith congratulated Collins for his victory, and pledged to work closely with him ahead of the transition in January.
“It was a disappointment for me personally, but the time comes when things change and people want new leadership,” Smith said.
Smith was elected to the Helena City Commission in 1999 and won his first term as mayor two years later. According to information from City Clerk Debbie Havens, he is the longest-serving mayor in Helena’s history.
Voters also elected two members of the Helena City Commission. Heather O’Loughlin, the co-director of the Montana Budget and Policy Center, received 26 percent of the vote, while incumbent Andres Haladay received 23 percent.
“I’m hoping these results hold, and I’m excited about what we can accomplish for Helena over the next four years,” Haladay said.
Haladay led Sean Logan, Helena’s former fire chief, by 144 votes after Election Day. Provisional ballots still have to be counted, but Lewis and Clark County elections supervisor Audrey McCue said Wednesday that only about 80 ballots remain in Helena.
Mark Burzynski received 20 percent of the vote for city commission, Gary Spaeth had 5 percent and Justin Ailport had 4 percent.
Collins, Haladay and O’Loughlin ran together as a self-described “progressive slate” of candidates. During the campaign, they prioritized issues like increasing access to affordable housing and attracting more development to downtown Helena.
There was only one contested race in East Helena, and it remained contested at the end of Election Day. Ward Two City Council member Don Dahl and challenger Kelly Harris both had 165 votes.
As of Wednesday, election officials say there are at least two uncounted provisional ballots in the ward. Those ballots will be counted no earlier than Monday.
The election results will be finalized at the county canvass on Nov. 16. County treasurer, clerk and recorder Paulette DeHart said, if the race remains tied after those ballots are resolved, an automatic recount will be conducted. If one candidate is ahead, the other will have five days to ask for a recount.
After all of those steps, if the two candidates are still tied, state law gives the East Helena City Council the authority to decide who will win the seat. Mayor James Schell said city leaders haven’t determined exactly what process they’ll go through in that case, but it’s most likely the other council members would simply take a vote.
Schell said he’s heard of cases where East Helena elections ended up tied, but not for decades.
“I think it’s a great example of how every vote counts,” Schell said.
Schell and Ward One Councilmember Judy Leland were both reelected Tuesday in uncontested races.