- Michael D. Pitman Staff Writer
The outcome of a too-close-to-call Fairfield City Council race will be known Monday, when dozens of provisional and late-arriving absentee ballots are counted and tallied with unofficial Election Day totals.
Three of the five people seeking three at-large city council seats in the Nov. 7 general election will be waiting to know if they won or loss as former mayor Ron D’Epifanio’s position as top vote-getter won’t change.
D’Epifanio received 540 more votes than the second-place vote-getter, incumbent Councilman Chad Oberson, who received 2,921 votes, according to the unofficial results from the Butler County Board of Elections. Fellow incumbent, Councilman Bill Woeste, received the third-most with 2,867 votes. That was only three votes better than challenger and former council member Terry Senger (2,864).
It’s expected that 60 of the 65 provisional ballots cast on Election Day and in early voting will be counted pending the Butler County Board of Elections approval on Monday. Election officials say it appears five voters were not registered to vote. There are six late-arriving absentee ballots (all postmarked on or before Monday, Nov. 6) that will also be added to the vote total.
Those 66 votes could change the order of the finish . There are 57 votes that separate Oberson’s second-place finish and Senger’s fourth-place finish — a 0.39 percent difference. Incumbent Mike Snyder received less than 2,600 votes and his fifth-place finish would not be impacted.
The tight race is likely representative of the election’s low voter turnout more than any type of “message” voters may or may not be sending, said Miami University Regionals political science professor John Forren.
Countywide voter turnout was 24.9 percent, and turnout was 21.9 percent in Fairfield, according to unofficial election results. Those numbers are expected to change once the absentee and provisional votes are added.
“Lower voter turnout is clearly a big part of this picture,” he said. “Whenever turnout is low — as here — it certainly makes it much more likely that a race can boil down to a handful of votes one way or the other.”
Forren said Fairfield’s race is “an especially close race, even by local election standards.”
“It’s really hard to say that the outcome represents a clear message from the community that it wants change or a new direction,” he said.
Forren said it is likely difficult for the candidates to wait to know the outcome, which will be even longer if an automatic recount happens.
” It’s natural in those circumstances for a candidate to ask themselves, ‘What little extra thing could I have done to put myself over the top?’” he said.
The Butler County Board of Elections members will meet at 1 p.m. Monday to approve the provisional and late-arriving absentee ballots, and then oversee the official run of the election with the additional valid votes included. The board will then certify the election at 2 p.m. Tuesday. If the difference between winning and losing remains within a half percent, state law requires an automatic recount be ordered — though no recount has changed the outcome of the official run since Butler County has had electronic voting.