Note: This story appears in the Friday, June 7 newspaper on Page A1.
Every vote counts.
That’s the main lesson from Alexander’s recent school board levy, which passed by a single vote: 1,184 to 1,183. The levy featured voters from three different counties casting ballots at nine different precincts.
When levies are concerned, a tie means the ballot item fails. If just one more nay vote was cast — or one fewer yay — the levy would have failed, leaving Alexander officials wondering about a seventh attempt at passing an income tax.
In truth, there have been numerous other examples of extremely close (or tied) elections over the years. They range from big to small, from a county commissioner’s race with thousands of votes cast to the small village of Zaleski, which saw an operating expenses levy fail in 2017 due to an even 41-vote tie.
Here’s a look back at some noteworthy close elections from our area. May they serve as examples that every vote indeed counts.
A coin flip, then redemption
The classic example of a close election in Athens County came in 2008. Two Democrats, Jim Pancake and Charlie Adkins, were vying for the party’s nomination for county commissioner.
On election night, Adkins held a 143-vote lead over Pancake. This was, however, the same highly contested primary election featuring Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the Democratic ballot. Voter turnout was through the roof, and this led to thousands of provisional and absentee ballots that were not included in the primary election night totals.
The official count, incredibly, had Pancake and Adkins tied at 2,854 votes apiece. The primary would have to be decided by coin flip.
The Messenger reported at the time that elections officials contacted the candidates asking input on whether they wanted heads or tails. Adkins, reportedly, could not be reached. Pancake answered the call and wanted heads.
County Prosecutor C. David Warren made the flip — it was heads, and Pancake was declared the winner.
(A required recount was later held; it confirmed the tie and reaffirmed Pancake as the tie-break winner.)
Adkins eventually filed a request in court for a hand recount, but a judge dismissed the case.
In November, Obama won the county by a huge margin over Republican candidate John McCain en route to becoming president. Despite that, Pancake lost the county commissioner general election to Republican Larry Payne.
The following year, Adkins began publicly mulling another run for county commissioner. He considered challenging Democratic incumbent Lenny Eliason, but Adkins reportedly changed his mind 15 minutes before the filing deadline.
He waited a few years before announcing his plans to run for commissioner in 2012. Pancake also gave consideration to another run, but ultimately decided against it.
Adkins faced fellow Dem Gary Edwards in the primary, and had another remarkably close result — Adkins won narrowly, 3,382 to 3,304.
He faced off that November against Payne, who by then was running for re-election. Adkins won by a sizable margin.
Democrat Chris Chmiel won the other county commissioner race that November. Eliason was unopposed in 2014 and won re-election in 2018, and that’s how Athens County has its current county commission.
A pool heartache, then a pool party
The Logan City Pool was in pretty lousy shape by the time city officials placed a bond issue on the 2014 ballot. The pool itself, and much of its equipment, was over 80 years old.
In recent years, The Logan Daily News reported in 2014, “the pool and equipment have created multiple problems for those operating it, as well as headaches for the city as it attempts to manage operating costs.”
The election night results were heartbreaking for pool supporters: the bond issue failed by just one vote, 911 to 910.
“Naturally, I’m disappointed, but the outcome is a perfect example that your vote does matter,” said Logan Mayor Martin Irvine at the time.
The pool did not open in 2015, with officials saying the city lacked proper funds to continue operation.
You don’t know what you have until it’s gone, the saying goes, and local residents yearned for their pool to open once again.
A group of local citizens developed a goal to raise enough money to open the pool in 2016 without city funds. The group held fundraisers and collected donations from area businesses.
The pool did in fact open in 2016, with guests even donating spare change at the gate to help with operating costs.
The pool’s support in 2016 and 2017 led city officials to place a new election issue on the 2018 ballot. This time, the result was clear: the pool issue received 1,409 votes in favor and just 925 against.
The plan is to open the existing pool for the 2018 season, then construct a new pool this fall. The hope is for the new complex to open by next summer.
Lose by one, then win by one
When an election result is so close, a candidate can’t help but want to try again.
That was true for Charlie Adkins in Athens County, and happened a few years ago for a local candidate in the village of McArthur.
Tammy Smith was a Vinton County Republican Party committee organizer for years before deciding to seek election herself. McArthur Village Council’s election in 2013 featured five candidates — four incumbents plus Smith. The top four vote-getters were guaranteed a seat on Council.
The eventual counts were 214, 205, 200, 196 and 195, with Smith having 195. She’d lost by only one vote.
“I’m happy with it,” Smith later told a reporter. She spent 2014 organizing in the county for Gov. John Kasich’s re-election campaign, and helped to operate the county GOP headquarters.
A year later came a vacancy on Council. When that happens, local residents can show interest in the seat and remaining Council members vote to fill it.
It came down to Smith and another candidate, Misty Napier. The five Council members voted and selected Napier by a 3-to-2 margin.
That meant Smith had lost another bid for Council by just one vote.
Smith waited another year, and filed to run again in 2015 for Council. There was a three-way race for two open seats, one of which being the Napier seat.
Incredibly, the final results were: incumbent David Bolender with 297, Smith with 212 and Napier with 211. After two close calls, Smith finally won — by just one vote.
Note: Do you recall any other close elections here in Southeast Ohio? Write to us at 9300 Johnson Road, Athens, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts.