In 1986, every vote really counted in this Anne Arundel County election

First he was winning by 153 votes. Then he was winning by three votes. Then he was losing by 1 vote. And when it was all over…

The election of 1986 proved quite the roller-coaster ride for Anne Arundel County’s Donald E. Lamb, a candidate for the House of Delegates from District 30, which included Annapolis and the Broadneck Peninsula.

When the Election Night returns were tallied, Lamb, 36, an industrial consultant living in Cape St. Claire, seemed safely ahead in a close race for the district’s third seat. With candidates John C. Astle and Michael E. Busch (now the House speaker, then on the cusp of becoming a newly elected delegate) safely ensconced in the two top spots, Lamb was third with 12,573 votes; his nearest rival, Republican Annapolis Alderman John R. Hammond, had 12,420.

Even though it appeared Democrats would sweep all three seats, Lamb wasn’t feeling too secure. “I’m scared to death,” he told Sun reporter Patrick J. LaForge at Team 30 headquarters in Annapolis. “Well, not scared to death. I’m awful nervous at this point.”

He had reason to be. Turned out the absentee ballots, which would be counted over the next few days, decidedly favored Hammond. By the time the final results were announced 10 days later, Lamb’s lead had shrunk to just 3 votes. Still, a victory seemed a victory.

“I’m obviously relieved; I’m light-headed,” Lamb told Sun reporter Michael K. Burns. “I’m going to get a beer.”

Said Hammond, 38: “What’s the difference between three votes and 3,000 votes? The results are the same.”

Not so fast. Hammond soon filed an injunction, arguing that 24 absentee ballots disqualified by the county elections board should be included in the tally. A circuit court judge eventually ruled that 12 of those 24 ballots were valid, bringing the tally to 12,903 votes for Hammond, 12,902 for Lamb.

“We did it,” an exultant Hammond said after hearing the result and hugging his wife. “I feel glad for myself but a bit sad for Mr. Lamb.”

Once again, not so fast. Lamb appealed the circuit court’s decision to the state’s highest court. On Jan. 7, 1987, more than two months after the election and just seven days before the General Assembly was to convene, the Court of Appeals ruled that the lower court erred in ordering the 12 disputed ballots be counted. That put Lamb back ahead by three votes.

And that’s where the count stayed.

“I’m delighted with the court’s decision,” Lamb said. “It’s a wonderful day. It’s the finality — that’s what makes me feel so good.”

Hammond, needless to say, was not so ebullient. “It’s tough to lose an election when you’ve got more votes than the other guy,” he said. “The wait has gotten old. I’m glad it’s over.”

ckaltenbach@baltsun.com

twitter.com/chriskaltsun

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