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Baltich wins in a recount

Lake County commissioner candidates squared off in a forum.

By one vote, Ely area resident advances to general election for Lake County Board seat

by Tom Coombe

Ely’s Joe Baltich mused last week that his fate in a deadlocked primary election might “come down to a tiny little piece of paper,” should Lake County officials need to draw a name from a hat to determine who would advance to November’s general election.

Instead a recount put that fear to rest and gave Baltich an outright victory in his excruciatingly tight contest with Finland’s Colby Abazs.

The hand recount, conducted Aug. 18 at the county seat in Two Harbors, gave Baltich one additional vote and 100 overall, allowing him to edge out Abazs, whose vote count remained the same at 99.

That gave Baltich a second-place finish in the Aug. 8 primary and sends him on to November, when he’ll square off with Jack Nelson, who collected 124 votes in the primary. Baltich, who attended the recount, said he “fully figured I was going to lose because I  don’t feel like I am a lucky guy.”

Instead, the recount showed that the initial tabulation missed a vote that had been cast in Fall Lake Township for Baltich.

“I gained a vote and I fully did not expect that,” he said. “What happened was somebody when they filled out their ballot, instead of filling in the oval box, they went over to the left side of my name and made their own oval. They clearly voted for me. And as they were going through and counting all of these things they said I had 82 votes (in Fall Lake), which was one head (of the original count).  At that point if everything else was to hold I was going to win.”

The rest of the recount did not reveal any other discrepancies and the vote totals for the other candidates remained the same.

Baltich, with 100 votes, gained second place in what amounted to a three-way contest, as Abazs wound up a vote back and Finland’s Paul Hartshorn was in fourth place with 97, only three votes in back of Baltich.

“If that person had voted correctly, I would have been ahead and we still would have had the recount and I would have won as everybody else remained exactly the same.”

Had the recount ended in a tie, state law called for the tie to be broken by random selection and county officials indicated they were going to put a piece of paper with each candidate’s name in a hat.

Every vote clearly mattered in the primary, in a district that includes Fall Lake Township and spreads to Crystal Bay, Beaver Bay, part of Silver Bay and an unorganized township.

The special election was held because the District 1 seat was vacated by the death of longtime Commissioner Pete Walsh, 68, of Finland, on Jan. 19.

Baltich, a former Ely mayor and city council member, racked up the bulk of his vote total in Fall Lake, where he easily finished first, with the recount giving him 82 votes  there, with Abazs collecting 34 and no other contender reaching double digits.

Now, Baltich is turning his attention to November and said he will do “unconventional things” to campaign, including providing free art lessons in Finland.

“I need to get to know the folks in Finland and I am going to spend more time there,’ said Baltich. “Four years ago I did a meet and greet where I brought a cheese tray and I ended up taking home a lot of cheese. Now I said ‘the heck with that,’ and I am going to do something I am pretty good at and will do a free art lesson down in the Finland area.”

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