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Every vote counted

March 11, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Hagerstown City Council hopeful Alesia D. Parson has won the Democratic nomination to run in May's general election by the slimmest of margins - one vote.

Parson, a community activist and a political newcomer, joins incumbents Kristin B. Aleshire, Penny M. Nigh and Lewis C. Metzner and local attorney Kelly S. Cromer, also a political newcomer, to fill out the Democratic nominations for City Council.

The final primary election vote count was certified Thursday at the Washington County Board of Elections office after officials counted absentee ballots.

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Parson attended the count Thursday morning with friends James Odoms and Eric Campbell. She was keeping her own tally on a yellow notepad as votes were called out by election officials.

When the count was complete, Campbell hugged Parson and kissed her on the cheek. When a photographer took a photo of her, Parson smiled and softly sang the words, "I'm there! I'm there!"

Parson said she had heard several stories of voters braving the cold weather to vote for her, but she said the most special votes to her were those cast by her parents.

Parson said her father suffers from diabetes, and went to the polls in his slippers.

Parson said that while she has been nominated, she was just glad to have been able to participate.

"Had I lost, I would have still been victorious," Parson said. "This whole primary, and me being in there ... means more to my community than actually winning the vote."

Parson said her community is broader than her neighborhood - she lives on North Jonathan Street. She said she considers the entire city as her community.

Odoms, Parson's advisor, said the vote "also shows the greater community is becoming more diverse" and people are making choices "more by their ability than by their color."

The final outcome of Tuesday's primary election was not known until Thursday's absentee ballot count. In the race for the Democratic City Council nominations, enough absentee ballots had been issued to possibly change the election results.

When the polls closed Tuesday evening, Parson was the fifth-place leader with 503 votes. She led her closest opponent, Walter "Nick" E. Carter, by only eight votes.

Election officials had sent out 53 Democratic ballots.

Also in jeopardy were the nominations of Metzner, who had 542 votes, and Cromer, who had 522 votes before the absentee ballots were counted.

Unlike the touch-screen voting machines used at the polls Tuesday, the absentee ballots were hand marked by voters, and hand counted by election officials.

Election officials gathered at 35 W. Washington Street on Thursday. Eight judges - four Republicans and four Democrats - were split into two teams of two Democrats and two Republicans.

One team counted the pink Republican ballots, and the other counted the yellow ballots cast by Democrats. After one Democratic ballot was rejected because it was postmarked after the Monday deadline, there were 48 certified Democratic ballots and 67 certified Republican ballots.

Election board director Dorothy Kaetzel said later that the rejected ballot will never be opened, but all the election information is kept for 22 months after the election and then thrown out.

One judge called out the names of the candidates who had received votes as a second one looked at the ballot that was being read.

A third judge placed a hash mark next to the name of the candidate who had received the vote, while a fourth judge observed that the hash mark was placed under the right name.

On most of the ballots, five names were marked - there were 10 candidates running for five nominations - but some voters checked only one, two or three names.

One vote

After the ballots were counted, Parson had 15 new votes, and Carter had received 22, two shy of a win and one shy of a tie.

Carter, reached by phone Thursday, said he did not wish to challenge the vote count.

"If that's the way it's meant to be, that's the way it's meant to be," said Carter, a former city police officer.

Carter said that while his interest in the city remains strong, he probably will not run for office again. This was the first time he had run.

"Life goes on," Carter said.

While the absentee ballots changed the final number of votes received by the four Republican mayoral candidates, it did not change that race's outcome.

Including absentee ballots, Richard F. Trump was the GOP nominee with 559 votes. Trump's closest opponent, former Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, received 508 votes.

Incumbent Mayor William M. Breichner ran unopposed on the Democratic side of the ballot. He and Trump will square off in the general election.

The close vote raised questions about what would have happened had there been a tie between the fifth- and sixth-place candidates for the council nominations.

City Attorney William Nairn, who on Thursday was representing the City Board of Elections Supervisors, said there are several options, including placing both names of the tied partisan candidates on the general election ballot.

However, there are no specific rules for what should happen in that case, Nairn said. It would be up to the mayor and council to decide how to deal with a tie vote.

The Republican opponents for City Council are Ruth Anne Callaham, the Rev. Haru Carter Jr., Scott D. Hesse, Dan G. Kennedy and Torrence M. VanReenen.

The Republican nominees were not on Tuesday's ballot because they had no opposition.

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