GOP retains legal office McLendon slips by to remain Howard state's attorney

Margin is 115 votes

Supporters gather to watch counting of absentee ballots

November 06, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

After nearly four tense hours counting about 3,000 absentee ballots, Howard County elections officials declared Republican incumbent Marna L. McLendon the unofficial winner yesterday in the race for state's attorney, ending an unexpectedly close contest.

Supporters of McLendon and Democratic challenger Timothy J. McCrone -- but not the candidates -- watched as elections officials opened the ballots one by one and fed them into a machine. From 10:10 a.m. to 1:51 p.m. about two dozen people waited in the elections office in Ellicott City until the total vote was tallied:

McLendon, 38,906; McCrone, 38,791.

The total included 1,627 absentee votes for McLendon, 1,346 for McCrone. By a margin of 115 votes McLendon could celebrate a victory that appeared to be McCrone's on Tuesday, when votes tallied that day gave him a lead of 166. Some overseas absentee votes might trickle in, but officials said they are unlikely to change the outcome.

McLendon exulted in the victory, which Republicans had expected to win more comfortably -- until the Democratic wave led by Gov. Parris N. Glendening washed over Howard County on Tuesday, apparently boosting first-time candidate McCrone.

"I feel fantastic," said McLendon, as she arrived at the elections office after a Republican supporter called her with the results. "This has been a difficult race. That's an understatement actually. I feel fantastic that it's turned one more time and for the last time, it swung our way."

McLendon, who had expected to fly to Bermuda yesterday for vacation, will go today with her husband.

McCrone pondered what might have been. "I wish I could have done that one thing that would have put me over the top," he said by phone.

"The only thing that bothers me is that feeling that I let some people down who worked so hard on the campaign. We ran very hard campaign against an incumbent who is very high profile in the community," he said, adding he would not challenge the results.

For supporters awaiting the count, no numbers were flashing on television screens as there had been at party headquarters on election night. The sounds of razor blades ripping open envelopes could be heard as onlookers stood behind a roped-off area. Some bit their nails, nervously tapped their legs or pens or paced from one end of the waiting area to the other trying to call the race.

"McCrone; McCrone; McLendon," said George Layman, as he strained to read each ballot as it was put in a box before being entered into a machine. Layman, a Democrat, lost his District 1 race for County Council. "It's going to be close. It's like McCrone's getting every other one."

Carole Fisher, chairwoman of the Democratic Central Committee, gripped her coffee mug.

"Just when I think [McCrone's] holding his own down here and gotten the edge, here comes one for Marna," Fisher said. "Every time you think you have it figured out it gets blown out of the water."

On edge of seats

As the ballot opening continued, Democrats and Republicans stopped sharing crackers and chit-chatting about the Democratic victories nationwide. They sat on the edges of their seats and huddled in their respective corners to whisper their predictions.

About 1 p.m. everyone in the room seemed to hold their breath as technician Frank Kitzmiller tinkered with one of the machines to keep it from malfunctioning.

Five election officials held court at a small table in front of the crowd to decide the fate of about 50 questionable ballots. Some with no signatures were rejected. Officials decided to count others that had not been sealed in the proper envelopes.

"It's going to be close," said Richard D. Neidig, a Republican who campaigned for McCrone. "It's going to be really close."

'A nervous wreck'

Some supporters stepped outside to call McLendon and McCrone or fellow campaigners to give them updates. "Not since [County Executive Charles I. Ecker] won by 400 votes over Liz Bobo in absentee ballots have we had this kind of tension," said LaRue Poyer, a Republican, referring to the 1990 election. "I was such a nervous wreck then and now."

Moments before the tallies were announced, the crowd went silent when a postal carrier walked in with a stack of ballots to be counted. Most were declared too late because they missed Wednesday's deadline for ballots mailed within the United States.

Several well-known Howard Countians, including the Democratic winner of the county executive race, James N. Robey, Ecker, and local attorneys, dropped by during the count.

Robey joked about the relief he felt in not having his race depend on absentee ballots. "I thought about if I had to sit through this process ugh," he said.

Pub Date: 11/06/98

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