Written by Devon Boen
One race this political season is slightly different than most.
In June, Bridget Smith, Bill Whitehead and Walter White Tail Feather all ran for a seat in the Montana State House of Representatives in District 31 in the Democratic primary.
Smith came out on top with 38.7 percent of the votes. White Tail Feather followed closely behind with 33.4 percent and Whitehead trailed in third with 27.9 percent. There were a total of 613 votes in all.
Generally, that point would mark the end of the road for White Tail Feather and Whitehead, but the two men decided to choose a different path. Each defeated candidate decided to run as a write-in on the November ballot against Smith once again.
A write-in candidate is one whose name does not appear on the ballot, but voters are allowed to write the candidate of their choice’s name on the ballot and color the oval if they’d prefer to vote for one of the write-ins over the already listed candidates. There is no Republican candidate, so Smith will only face off against her previous primary competition.
Some obvious hardships come along with being a write-in candidate, mostly in the realm of marketing and promoting. A candidate’s name being listed gives them a distinct advantage, since a voter may not know who the write-in candidates are when they arrive at the polls on Election Day.
Smith, White Tail Feather and Whitehead have all handled the write-in situation in their own individual manner.
Smith, the candidate with the current advantage, attributes her success in the primary to name-recognition and community involvement. She has been in the area for over 40 years and has been involved in both politics and social work. Smith said this is the first time she has been the candidate rather than a behind-the-scenes participant.
Smith said she plans on using her people-skills to create solutions, if elected, and referred to herself as a worker bee. She stressed she views herself as a public servant and plans on being very vocal if she believes in an issue.
She named oil, agriculture and women’s issues as ones she believed were particularly important this election year, but was quick to state how all issues need attention.
When asked how she was dealing with the write-in candidate situation, Smith said she wasn’t focusing on it, but rather the issues. She said she was more concerned about understanding the issues and policies so she would be the best possible candidate if she were elected.
The issue of write-ins is slightly more pressing for the two who have entered the race in this manner.
Whitehead was born and raised in both Wolf Point and Poplar before spending time in Chicago, Ill., and Denver, Colo. Whitehead said he has always been interested in politics and involved himself in committees, movements and causes throughout his career.
He has also previously been a member of the Montana State Legislature.
He is currently working on the Assiniboine and Sioux Rural Water Supply System project, as well as campaigning.
To get his name out, Whitehead has been going door-to-door speaking with community members. He said he wanted to be elected because Montana needs strong aggressive leadership and he believed he would bring a wealth of experience to the table.
He also emphasized he wanted to continue to improve tribal and non-tribal relations while in office.
White Tail Feather is the other write-in candidate and is working on facing the same challenges as Whitehead.
White Tail Feather grew up in Poplar and went on to work at the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C.
After moving back to northeast Montana, White Tail Feather decided to run for office and said he wanted to focus on issues related to oil and economic development. He said he hoped to secure funding for small businesses in order to promote growth in the area.
White Tail Feather said he has been campaigning full-force in order to make up for any shortcomings created by being a write-in candidate. He said he has been going door-to-door connecting with the community.
All three candidates have approached the situation differently and plan to continue to campaign and increase name-recognition up until the votes have been tallied.