With thousands of ballots still to be counted, the Frederick County Board of Education race is far from over. But there are candidates who are clearly in the lead.
Sue Johnson, whose blue signs could be seen at almost every turn throughout the county in the last few months, continued to hold a substantial lead over the six other candidates as of Wednesday.
When asked, however, Election Director Stuart Harvey said he was hesitant to officially call her win.
"I'm skeptical to call it, but I do think, based on my experience — not necessarily based on counting ballots — but based on my experience, I think she's in a strong position to finish in the top three,” Harvey said. “The only reason I say that, is she has a substantial lead over the second and third place people right now."
Three seats are up for grabs on the board. Current board members Rae Gallagher and Lois Jarman are running to retain their seats and member Michael Bunitsky is stepping down.
In second and third place behind Sue Johnson, as of Wednesday, were Jason “Mr. J” Johnson and David Bass respectively. Bass was leading Rae Gallagher, who was in fourth, behind by 0.7 percent.
Due to these close margins, it is unlikely that any official winners will be called until all votes are counted.
Harvey said the Frederick County Board of Elections will likely be counting votes through Nov. 13 — the date that the election is scheduled to be certified by local boards of elections statewide.
Officials also have to wait until Nov. 13 for any mail-in ballots, as ballots have that long, per state election law, to arrive at the office. The one caveat is that ballots must have been postmarked by Nov. 3.
The Board of Elections will also canvass provisional ballots, which could be 6,000 or more, according to Harvey. This is double the number of provisional ballots seen during past presidential general elections.
Bass said he was grateful to voters of the county and was hopeful that he could retain his lead over Gallagher. But he is also aware of the number of votes that still have to be counted, he said.
“I am aware there are more votes to count. In every election, it is essential that every vote be counted,” Bass said. “I’m hopeful to win one of these three seats and I also am one who wants to wait and see... am grateful to be in third place at this time. I'm glad that there was such a strong turnout.”
In an email, Gallagher said she was disappointed with the current results, but was appreciative of the support she received.
“It was a challenging time to run a campaign but I remain grateful to my fellow candidates for their commitment to our students, families, educators, and community,” she said.
This year’s Board of Education race was plagued by a pandemic that restricted candidates' ability to campaign on a large and wide scale.
“It was really one-on-one for the most part and the events that I think we all associate with running for office, it wasn’t able to happen this year, including in-person debates and forums, but also the kind of gatherings of supporters that sometimes can generate some real good momentum,” Bass said.
Dean Rose, who trailed near the bottom of the list of candidates on Wednesday, said the pandemic has a tremendous impact on all the campaigns.
Looking back, Rose said name recognition may have been part of his downfall.
“There were candidates that sent out a lot more mailers. There were candidates that put out a lot more signs, and good for them, because in this environment that name recognition throughout the county was effective,” he said.
Rose said he was disappointed with his performance in the race but was not shocked. He knew he would have a tough time running against incumbents and other candidates who spent large amounts of money on their campaigns.
He still plans to stay engaged in the county though and show up to Board of Education meetings, as he has been doing for the past two years.
“I’ll be watching, I care too much about the kids of this community and our teachers,” Rose said. “I hope [the winners] step up to the plate, I hope they let their voices be heard, I hope the whole board comes together because this is the time to do it, this is the time to have an impact.”
Current board member Lois Jarman who was also trailing near the bottom of the pack on Wednesday said in an email that despite the disappointing results, she knows that she served FCPS to the best of her ability over the last two years.
“I always did what I thought was best for all of the students and all of the staff of FCPS. Public service is difficult and many decisions are not popular, but I am grateful for the opportunity to serve,” she said. “I remain steadfastly dedicated to public education.”
Jason Johnson summed up his feelings about being in second place with a few words.
“Grateful, humble, and ready to serve,” he said.
When asked what he thought was the most successful aspect of his campaign, Jason Johnson said he felt like he always shared his heart.
“I put it out there for the county to see and I think it resonated,” he said. “I’m going to come in humble, listening, and observing.”
If the votes continue to trend in his favor, and Jason Johnson obtains a seat, he said he wants to focus on improving communication between FCPS, parents and students.
For Bass, his initial large-scale vision will be on ensuring equitable education.
“A school system that appropriately serves each and every student and a school system that is truly listening to stakeholders,” he said.
As of Wednesday, no results had been reported for the official write-in candidate Paulette Anders, who joined the race less than a month ago. According to Harvey, write-in ballots have been counted but names will not be reported until next week. Write-in ballots must be diligently checked for full names and correct spellings. Per state election law, if Anders' name is misspelled even by one letter, the vote will not be counted.
Staff writer Steve Bohnel contributed to this report.