GOP's top contenders for state comptroller separated by 9 votes Prince George's to count absentee ballots Monday

September 19, 1998|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

With nine votes separating the top two contenders, the GOP nomination for state comptroller will not be decided before Monday, when absentee ballots are to be counted in Prince George's County.

Through yesterday -- when election officials finished counting absentee ballots in Baltimore and 22 of the state's 23 counties -- Owings Mills accountant Larry M. Epstein led Washington County banker Timothy R. Mayberry 42,566 to 42,557.

"You're kidding me," Robert J. Antonetti Sr., administrator of the Prince George's County election board, said when told that nine votes -- of more than 182,000 votes cast -- separated the two candidates. Antonetti, who will oversee the careful counting of the ballots that are likely to determine the race, added jokingly, "We prefer landslide elections."

Epstein, the 1990 Republican nominee for comptroller, led Mayberry, the party's 1994 nominee, by 295 votes after ballots were counted election night.

Michael Steele, a lawyer from Prince George's County who had been endorsed by Republican gubernatorial nominee Ellen R. Sauerbrey, finished third among the six candidates.

The Republican nominee will face former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the easy winner in the Democratic primary.

hTC Absentee ballots counted this week seem to have roughly followed the pattern of election night. Mayberry ran strongly in Western Maryland, and Epstein gained a large edge in the Baltimore area.

On election night, Steele easily won in Prince George's County, while Epstein attracted about 400 more votes than Mayberry in that county. But Epstein said the election night results do not guarantee that he will prevail in Monday's counting.

"You just don't know whose votes are out there," he said. "Whoever thought that that would be the deciding county. It's a county that neither of us will probably be that strong in."

The Mayberry camp seemed equally unsure about what Monday's count might bring. Asked whether she had a prediction, Mayberry spokeswoman Dee Richards said, "None at all."

State election officials said 482 absentee ballots were issued to registered Republicans in Prince George's County. Antonetti estimated yesterday that at least 400 of those had been returned.

He said the absentee ballots would not be counted until Monday because his staff spent the past couple of days canvassing election night returns from voting machines.

Although the loser of Monday's count might be legally entitled to petition for a recount, Epstein said he would not ask for one. He said a time-consuming recount would distract the winner from the task of taking on Schaefer.

"You just lose too much time," he said. "You've got a mountain to climb, and it wouldn't be fair to do that."

Pub Date: 9/19/98

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