The races for Carroll County sheriff, state's attorney and several other local posts remained undecided today, and the candidates will have to wait for a count of an estimated 800 absentee ballots before final tallies are known.
"It shouldn't have been that close," said State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman, who ended the night 525 votes ahead in his acrimonious contest with a former assistant, Jerry Barnes.
In the race for sheriff, Republican John H. Brown held a 286-vote lead over incumbent Sheriff Grover N. "Sam" Sensabaugh.
Yesterday's balloting also left the third spot on the county commission technically unresolved, though incumbent Julia Gouge appeared to have kept her seat by a thin margin.
The two candidates for state's attorney have traded accusations since January, when police conducted a fruitless but controversial drug search of County Commissioner J. Jeffrey Griffith. Hickman accused Barnes of leaking privileged information from the state's attorney's office to the public to embarrass Griffith. And Barnes accused Hickman of improperly offering aid and advice to Griffith after the search.
A state special prosecutor's investigation found no misconduct, but the incident was "the talk of Carroll County," Hickman said, "so understandably it played a role in this [election]. What role I don't know."
Barnes gave a premature victory speech, then went home. Early today, his wife said he was asleep and that she didn't know who won.
In the sheriff's race, Brown had campaigned for keeping much of Carroll's police protection in the hands of resident state troopers until the county can afford a separate local police department. Sensabaugh wanted to move faster by gradually expanding the role of the sheriff's department.
With two of its three county commissioners taking themselves out of the running, the county was ready to redefine its future.
The biggest vote-getter was Republican Donald Dell, a farmer who said that in the midst of suburban sprawl creeping into Carroll County he would try to "Keep It Country." His message seemed to take hold in a county concerned about pastures sprouting subdivisions, new residents crowding the schools and taxes going up to pay for the demands of new development.
The other commissioner victor was Manchester Mayor Elmer Lippy, a Democrat. But the fate of Gouge, an incumbent Republican, remained in doubt. She led Richard T. Yates, also a Republican, by just 392 votes. Two Democrats trailed them.
Over the last four years, Gouge often provided the swing vote on key issues. "So naturally I made some people happy and some people unhappy," she said last night. "Seemingly anything that has happened over the last four years is my baggage."
Yates campaigned on a shoestring budget and the promise of hard scrutiny of county spending.
"All I can say is Carroll County is fairly conservative," said Sharon Baker, a Democrat who presented herself as the candidate who would spend more on education and social services. She finished far behind.
County Democrats were expecting a happier night. Lippy's victory provided one of the bright spots, but he, too, was affected by losses elsewhere. At the end of a speech thanking his supporters, he said, "I should have been able to cheer up with a joke or something, but I can't think of anything funny."
With two new commissioners, Carroll may find its policies changing. The traditional method of "pay-as-you-go" spending may be a likely place to start. Dell, the biggest winner, said he favored going into bonded debt to pay for more schools.