ELLSWORTH — In a divisive and down-to-the-wire School Board race Tuesday, one-term incumbent Abigail Miller narrowly retained her seat against challenger Casey Hardwick, 919 votes to 886. A third candidate, Joshua Dudeck, secured 534 votes, with 61 cast as write-in votes and 343 left blank.
Hardwick said early on Wednesday that she will request a recount because of the narrow margin and possible voter confusion.
“I think it was a good race, and I think there were errors made on ballots, with regard to the write-in candidate,” Hardwick said.
She explained hearing that people had accidentally written in Daisy Wight as a write-in candidate for the three-year seat. But Wight was running for a different, one-year seat as a declared write-in candidate against Tara Keeleen Young.
Young handily won that seat, 1,734 to 454. An additional 42 votes were cast for different write-in candidates and 515 were blank.
“I’m looking forward to being a part of our School Board,” Young said. “I know the other members well enough to know that we won’t always see eye to eye on every issue, but we will be able to disagree, discuss issues and work toward consensus without losing sight of the fact that we all have the students’ best interests at heart.
“There is a lot of work to do to ensure that staff and teachers are supported so that our students can learn and thrive.”
For a recount, every single ballot is looked at, City Clerk and Registrar of Voters Heidi Grindle said. Overvotes, where a voter does not follow ballot instructions and votes for more candidates than allowed, are considered blanks.
“If a person doesn’t clearly mark the ballot according to the instructions, then it invalidates their vote,” she continued, adding that “tons of ballots were reissued” for voters whose ballots were rejected as they went to put them in the voting machine on Election Day. Those voters were able to then fill out a ballot correctly and put it in the machine.
“If the person absentee voted it would have to be cast as is … Unless they realize while they still have the ballot and call us to request a replacement ballot,” Grindle said in an email Wednesday.
After speaking with Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn on Nov. 3, Grindle told The American that the city council is the ruling body to determine how the recount is done, including consideration of “overvote” ballots.
Curriculum and inclusivity were major issues among all candidates, with Hardwick and Wight firm on a more parent-based approach to education and raising their fears of critical race theory being taught to Ellsworth students.
Miller thanked voters for their support at the polls.
“I am humbled by the outpouring of heartfelt congratulations,” she said. “I will continue to strive for the best educational experience for all kids and for the health and well-being of our community through this pandemic and beyond. I look forward to working with this team.”
Voters also elected incumbent S. Craig MacDonald and Kristen D. Onos as library trustees in an uncontested race.
Just over 41 percent of registered voters turned out for the election, which also had three statewide referendum questions, with 2,745 total ballots cast.