A daylong Howard County election board count of absentee ballots yesterday -- interrupted by a heart attack that hit board president Roland L. Howard -- showed Kenneth S. Ulman to be the apparent winner of the west Columbia County Council Democratic primary by a 37-vote margin.
A count of 873 absentee ballots countywide also showed Diane Wilson beating Kirk Halpin by 53 votes in the Republican County Council primary in District 3, covering the southeastern county.
"I think I should feel pretty confident that I won," a nervous Ulman said after the meeting.
Mary Kay Sigaty, who received 76 absentee votes to Ulman's 73, said victory is "unlikely," but she refused after the meeting to concede until the result is certified.
In the District 3 race, Halpin received 19 absentee votes and Wilson 14.
The outcome seemed almost anticlimactic after Howard's heart attack, which occurred midway through the nearly seven-hour, tedious review and a series of arguments about whether to accept several late ballots.
Howard, 76, slumped in his chair after tense exchanges about whether to allow several ballots to be counted. He alone refused to disqualify them, despite contrary legal instructions from board attorney Mary Reese.
The board president was carried from the room at 1:45 p.m. as workers ran next door to a pediatrician's office. Several nurses and doctors responded and performed CPR until county firefighters arrived. He was moved 30 minutes later to Howard County General Hospital, where he was later reported in critical condition.
Yesterday's count was unofficial. The board will reconvene Wednesday to count any overseas ballots that arrive and 29 provisional ballots, which were issued to voters whose names were not found on voting rolls but who said they were entitled to vote. The board must decide the validity of each provisional ballot before adding it to the tally.
The election-night count in one precinct in River Hill made the difference in the Ulman-Sigaty race. Voters at the River Hill community center on Trotter Road voted 388 to 105 for Ulman, providing more than his apparent margin of victory.
Sigaty's best precinct was at Wilde Lake High School, near her home, where she received 244 votes to Ulman's 132.
Sigaty said there was an e-mail campaign in River Hill -- where Ulman lives -- that suggested she would not represent the village well based upon her service on the high school redistricting committee that helped draw boundary lines for the new Reservoir High in Fulton last year. She said she could do little to combat the campaign.
The high school redistricting process created bitter conflicts among parents. River Hill residents felt their community was being divided among several schools to allow North Laurel children to attend Reservoir. Sigaty was co-chairwoman of the committee, which became a lightning rod for tension between communities.
Ballots in question
Yesterday, the board took nearly two hours to begin tallying ballots in an electronic counting machine because of procedural delays involving defective ballots.
Ten staffers waited to open the ballots while the board voted on whether to accept several dozen that had defects -- such as lack of a postmark, proper date or voter signature.
The board accepted two ballots, for example, that should have been disqualified under law because they were hand-delivered after the polls closed Tuesday, attorney Reese said.
But Howard refused to vote to disqualify them, worrying that a board staff error could have delayed their delivery until 35 minutes after polls closed.
Without a unanimous vote to reject a ballot, it must be counted, Reese advised the board.
"I spent many years in the Navy and went to countries where people can't vote," he said, adding that he is reluctant to disqualify ballots unless they are clearly illegal.
Just before he collapsed, Howard several times rejected Reese's instructions that two other late ballots must be rejected. Noting postmarks that showed the two ballots had been mailed Tuesday, Howard said a mail delay likely kept them from arriving until yesterday.
"I'd rather challenge the law," Howard said, refusing to back down through two board votes. Then, he fell back.
Other ballots were denied because they lacked a voter signature. Added delays occurred when ballots were rejected by the machine for errors.
One person "voted for the bar code" at the top of the ballot by mistake, said board member Guy Harriman. The board eventually accepted that ballot.