In one of the closest elections in recent history, the race for two seats on the Carroll County Board of Education will come down to the uncounted absentee ballots, leaving the winners unknown until tomorrow.
Although election officials expect to have an unofficial total by then, they won't have official results until Nov. 17, when all overseas ballots have been returned and tallied.
With all 43 of precincts reporting, Thomas G. Hiltz of Woodbine was in first place with 27,779 votes. Susan Holt of Sykesville was second with 24,839 votes, followed by Lisa Breslin of Westminster with 24,324 and Stephen M. Nevin of Finksburg with 21,981.
The difference among the four candidates' preliminary totals is smaller than the number of absentee ballots -- 3,255.
"I'm kind of shocked," said Holt, who in the primary election won more than 3,000 votes more than the second-place finisher in a crowded field of 22 candidates. "I was hoping we'd all know tonight, but this is the way this race has been -- it's been long. It might as well be longer."
Nevin, who finished third in the primary, said he was not surprised by the close results. "This proves it's an extremely regional election," he said. "Ms. Breslin had a very hot one-issue campaign. Mr. Hiltz had a lot of money and a good organization. They did a fine job."
The tight race, Nevin said, indicated the county "is ready for a change."
Hiltz, who placed second in the primary and had spent nearly $5,000 of his money in the process of outspending the other three candidates, also was not surprised.
"It was a close primary," he said from his truck as friends and supporters shouted their congratulations from the road. "We had four candidates that were qualified to be on the Board of Education. I knew it was going to be a fight, a challenge."
Breslin said she suspected the race would come down to absentee ballots. As a result, she courted the elderly in an attempt to win absentee votes.
"We are thrilled with the results," said Breslin, who placed fourth in the primary. She said she considered the preliminary results good news, acknowledging that she had come into the race as an underdog.
"I'm going to hope and pray that all of our efforts will lead to victory," Breslin said. At Carroll polling places yesterday, voters expressed mixed emotions over this year's school board election.
Some based their votes on personal conversations with the candidates or their stances on pivotal issues, such as the much-debated $35.4 million high school under construction in Westminster.
Others chose candidates for somewhat more arbitrary reasons -- because the name of a one candidate sounded good with the name of a candidate they supported or because they liked a candidate's signs.
John Roberts, 69, of Hampstead based his votes solely on gender, casting ballots for Holt and Breslin. "I wanted to see more women on the board," the retired computer operator said. "Men shouldn't control everything."
Linda Livesay, 40, of Sykesville voted for Nevin and Hiltz, explaining that she "couldn't stand the other two."
"I guess it was the lesser of two evils," she said. "I still don't think any of them will be a real change. The school board still will think they're in charge of the parents instead of the other way around."
Livesay, vice president of a management company and a registered Republican, added that three of her co-workers have pulled their elementary school-age children out of the public schools in favor of home schooling.
Joe Burns Jr. of Westminster cast only one vote -- for Hiltz. "I didn't care for any of the others," the 41-year-old claims adjuster said. "I've met him and he's a stand-up individual. He's an intelligent man. He has an independent viewpoint. And he's not aligned with any particular group."
Holt and Nevin ran as the "Team for Change" with the endorsement of outspoken board member Susan W. Krebs. Breslin had been an active member of a citizens group pushing for the new Westminster high school.
Burns said he placed particular importance on school spending concerns. "There are financial issues that need to be looked at," he said, referring to the grand jury investigating possible mismanagement in the school system and bungled construction projects that have cost county taxpayers millions of dollars in overruns and lawsuits. "Apparently they need to be looked at a lot closer. It seems like someone is playing fast and loose with the money around here."
Frank O'Connor, a 37-year-old Baltimore County firefighter who lives in Hampstead, chose Nevin and Breslin based on candidate profiles published in local newspapers.
"I didn't want to pair Breslin and Hiltz or Nevin and Holt because together they are too much alike," he said. "I wanted differences."