Ward 5 City Councilwoman Julie Armstrong disqualified from ballot

Ward 5 City Councilwoman Julie Armstrong

Ward 5 Missoula City Council member Julie Armstrong has been removed from the ballot after she failed to pay her full filing fees, the county’s election administrator said Tuesday.

The change dropped the Ward 5 race to two candidates, and prompted a special City Council meeting for 9 a.m. Wednesday to cancel the primary election in that district.

The remaining candidates are John Contos and Alex Fregerio.

In a memo to Armstrong late Monday, Missoula County elections administrator Dayna Causby informed the first-term councilwoman that she was “no longer qualified to appear on the ballot as a candidate for the upcoming Missoula City Council election.”

The memo was emailed to city clerk Marty Rehbein on Tuesday, as well as to the state commissioner of political practices and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office.

Here is Causby’s explanation to Armstrong, describing the events that led to her disqualification:

“As of Tuesday, July 2, 2019, your candidate filing fees were not paid in full due to your check being returned stamped NSF. An email was sent regarding how to resolve the issue that day. You responded that you would appear in person to remedy the NSF check and fee. An additional email was sent on Wednesday, July 3, 2019, informing you that the deadline to resolve the filing fees was Friday, July 5, 2019. No additional communication has been received from you regarding this issue.”

Armstrong’s removal from the race prompted Mayor John Engen to convene Wednesday’s special meeting of the City Council, just before the start of the council’s weekly regimen of committee meetings.

Missoula Curent reached out to Armstrong by email for an interview to explain why she decided not to run for reelection. She has not yet responded by phone or email.

However, in a post to the Current’s Facebook page after this story was originally published online, Armstrong said she wanted to withdraw from the race after the City Council convened a primary election. But the deadline for withdrawing had passed, she said.

Here is the full explanation Armstrong posted on  Facebook:

“When I found out that the mayor was intent on running a primary, I went to withdraw from the race because we have two good candidates there now. We (the City Council) voted on the primary on the same exact day that was the last day to withdraw from a primary, June 17th, making it impossible for me to withdraw. The only way to withdraw from a primary is to be disqualified, and there’s only three ways to be disqualified, not paying your fees, which I put a stop pay on my check: or moving out of your ward or no longer having a valid voter registration.

“Trust me folks I have the money to pay my fees that wasn’t the issue. I am glad however that there will not be a primary in Ward 5, as we will not be wasting $10,000 and having our candidates spend more of their own money to campaign. I feel confident that our citizens and Ward 5 can make up their minds in one election, and don’t need two.”

Armstrong did not attend this Monday’s City Council meeting, and did not say at earlier meetings that she was withdrawing from the race because of the primary election. Nor did she contact Causby at the elections office with an explanation, according to Causby’s letter on Monday.

The Ward 5 race can, however, be taken off the September primary election ballot.

Ballots have not yet been printed, Causby said, so can still be changed. At present, the ballot shows four City Council races where at least three candidates are running. The top two vote-getters will advance to November’s general election.

Should the City Council approve the removal of Ward 5 from the primary ballot, the remaining races will be in wards 1, 3 and 4. Cost of the three-ward primary is estimated at $41,000, $10,000 less than the four-ward primary.

The remaining primaries include:

Ward 1

Heidi West (incumbent)

Elizabeth Weaver

Amber Shaffer.

Ward 3

Gwen Jones (incumbent)

Dakota Hileman

Drew Iverson.

Ward 4

Amber Sherrill

Alan Ault

Greg Strandberg.