It’s going to be a very long weekend for three Bel Air Town Commissioner candidates.
Incumbents Robert Preston and David Carey led challenger Greg Adolph by a razor-thin margin in the results of Tuesday’s voting. Nothing will be settled until Monday, when provisional ballots are verified and the remaining absentee ballots are counted.
Currently, Preston leads the field with 414 votes, followed by Carey with 411 and Greg Adolph with 410. Ricky Davis received 356 votes, Dave Mitchell received 32 votes, and Steve Testerman received 11 votes.
Those results included the 866 votes cast on Tuesday as well as eight of 13 absentee ballots. Five absentee ballots have yet to be counted, and eight provisional ballots must be verified before being counted.
Town election officials will open the remaining absentee ballots and determine the validity of the provisional ballots on Monday at 2:30 p.m. at Bel Air Town Hall.
All the candidates except for Testerman, who announced last month that he was dropping his candidacy and would not actively campaign, were on hand Monday night at Town Hall to hear the results. But it was clear those numbers would be extremely close when town employee Joyce Oliver prefaced them with a warning that nothing would be final that night.
The first round of results read did not include any absentee ballots, and had Adolph and Preston tied with 409 votes each, Carey behind with 406 votes, and Davis trailing with 353.
Davis left Town Hall without comment after those results were read, while the other stunned candidates double-checked the figures.
After a short time, elections officials announced that they would open eight of the 13 absentee ballots. The remainder were held back until Monday; in the event that all but one or two provisional ballots were deemed ineligible, the excess absentee ballots would be able to be mixed in to protect the anonymity of the remaining provisional ballots.
Of those eight ballots, Preston and Carey each gained five votes, Davis gained three, and Adolph gained one. Two of the ballots were “under-voted,” meaning they included a vote for only one candidate.
It’s the closest town election since 2005, when Joan Morrisey Ward and Jim Decker ended the election in a dead tie and went to a run-off election, which Ward won.
Each of the remaining three candidates saw a different light at the end of their respective tunnels.
“A lot of older people are out of town, they’re very conscientious about sending these [absentee ballots] in,” Preston said. “The older generation are generally going for Dave and I.”
Carey recalled the town election of 1995, when he lost by only two votes. But this time around, he said he believed the remaining five absentee ballots would push him and his fellow incumbent over the top.
“Out of the first eight absentee ballots, I picked up five, Rob picked up five, Greg picked up one,” Carey said, “so that bodes well.”
However, the number of provisional ballots which election officials validate could be a crucial factor in sorting out the three-way virtual tie.
Town Commissioner Terry Hanley, who helped guide the Adolph and Davis campaigns, said that once those provisional ballots are included, the result will be obvious.
“Adolph wins,” he said. “Provisional votes are new voters, who were energized to come out and vote for a challenger.”
Adolph himself thanked those in attendance for their efforts in the election, without much comment on the results. But in private conversation, it was clear that he was settling in for a long, tense wait on the doorstep of his first electoral victory.
“It’s there,” Adolph said. “It’s right there.”