A week after voters went to the polls, election boards for Carroll and Frederick counties convened yesterday to count the last absentee ballots in the Democratic primary race for a House of Delegates seat in Legislative District 4B, which straddles the counties.
With nearly 1,500 votes cast in the race, three were left to count.
But three votes separated the two candidates.
Facing the prospect that the race might end in a dead heat - an outcome that would require another day at the polls for voters in the predominantly rural district - elections officials arrived at a final tally with a sigh of relief.
Thomas Morrison, 748, Robert Lubitz, 746.
No need to restage the election in District 4B, but a recount is all but certain, election officials said yesterday.
Because the unofficial results were so tight, Lubitz would receive a recount for the asking, said Patricia K. Matsko, Carroll's elections director. "This is well within the range for a recount," she said.
Repeated attempts to reach Lubitz and Morrison for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.
The victor faces Republican Del. Donald B. Elliott, a four-term incumbent, in the general election Nov. 5. District 4B, largely an area of farms dotted with a few towns, such as Mount Airy, Union Bridge and New Windsor, includes one precinct in eastern Frederick County and 12 precincts in western Carroll County.
The race between Lubitz, a state employee, and Morrison, a salesman from Westminster who ran unsuccessfully for Carroll County commissioner in 1990, could turn out to be one of the closest in memory in Carroll County.
Neither Matsko nor Janet Jump, chairwoman of the Carroll County Board of Elections, could recall a recount in recent years.
In the 1998 primary election, Commissioner Donald I. Dell advanced to the general election by 14 votes. A statewide race that year produced one of the closest elections in Maryland history, when Larry M. Epstein won the Republican nomination for comptroller by seven votes - out of 182,000 cast.
In 1999, a race for town council in New Windsor ended in a tie - which was ultimately broken by a vote of council members.
At the end of election night last week, Morrison led 733 to 727, with absentee ballots left to count. Some absentee ballots were counted last week, but officials held back a few while awaiting overseas ballots to protect those voters' confidentiality.
As election officials arrived in their offices yesterday, Morrison held a 748-745 lead. With little fanfare, they went to work, and within 15 minutes they announced the outcome.
There were two Democratic absentee ballots for the Frederick County portion of the district left to be opened, and one from the Carroll County portion, election officials said.
But those two Frederick County residents had skipped over the delegate race, elections officials said.
"We only had two ballots here that could have affected that race and those voters chose not to vote in it," said Stuart Harvey, Frederick's election director.
The lone Carroll vote went to Lubitz.
Once the count is certified by state elections officials - probably by early tomorrow - the candidates will have two days to ask for a recount and choose a manual or machine tally.
"The machine count would mean renting a machine and paying a technician to run the ballots," she said. "The manual count is more labor intensive and would require four staff members: two to record the votes, one to call them and the fourth to observe."
A candidate can ask for a full recount or one that only looks at specific precincts.
Since the margin is so narrow, Maryland elections law requires the state to pay the cost of the recount, officials said. The two elections boards would have two days to complete the recount.