By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Rocky Boy Schools will hold another school board election next week after some voters were turned away from the polls on Tuesday.
Voters who registered to vote in Chouteau County were turned away because school election officials thought they were required to vote in Chouteau County, school board members said.
The Rocky Boy school district is a joint district that draws voters from both Hill and Chouteau counties.
Greg Holmlund, clerk of the Rocky Boy district, said this morning that between 12 and 20 voters were turned away. There was a spread of 15 votes between the highest vote-getter, Ted E. Whitford, and the fourth highest vote-getter, Patrick Chief Stick Jr.
In Tuesday's election, six candidates ran for two three-year terms on the school board. According to unofficial results, Whitford received 58 votes and Duane Gopher received 49. They were followed by Thelma Stanley with 44 votes, Chief Stick with 43, Debbie St. Pierre with 41, and Kenneth Standing Rock Sr. with 17.
In a special meeting of the Rocky Boy school board this morning, the four members who were present voted to declare the election invalid, and then voted to hold an election on Tuesday that will be open to voters registered in both Chouteau and Hill counties.
"We figured the only fair way to do it would be to have another election," board member Tracey Jilot said after the meeting. Jilot said other options had included accepting the results, reopening the polls to those who were turned away to come back and vote, or reopening the polls for all school district voters who live in Chouteau County.
"I feel it's going to be fair," said school board member Ted E. Whitford, who received the highest number of votes in Tuesday's election. "If we were turning voters away, we need to be fair and hold another election."
Board member Russel Gopher was not present for the vote.
Holmlund said the board's legal counsel and election officials recommended a whole new election because the remaining voters might be swayed by the election results they had seen.
"I was a candidate and a lot of my supporters were sent away from the polls," Debbie St. Pierre said Thursday. She was the fifth- highest vote-getter out of six candidates, but was only eight votes shy of the second-highest vote-getter.
Holmlund said he found out about the mistake from Hill County election officials on Wednesday.
"Voters were turned away because election officials administering the polls were not aware that the Rocky Boy School District includes part of Chouteau County," Holmlund said today.
"It was my mistake," Holmlund said. "I thought the approach we were taking was valid, but it wasn't."
Holmlund is new to the area, and became clerk in November.
Hill County Superintendent of Schools Shirley Isbell said this morning that Holmlund contacted her on Wednesday.
"He knew that an error had been made and he was just looking for what the law requires and avenues for correcting it," Isbell said.
She noted that Holmlund is new to the position.
"I think he's done an outstanding job as far as fulfilling his duties as district clerk, but we all make mistakes," she said.
The new election will be held at the Rocky Boy elementary school gym between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Tuesday. Absentee ballots are available from the district clerk at the Rocky Boy School Administration Building, and must be turned in by 4 p.m. Monday.