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Published: Tuesday, 11/14/2000

Commission race in Seneca down to walk-in, absentee votes

TIFFIN - Northwest Ohio has its own election cliffhanger: Seneca County voters still don't know who won a race for commissioner.

The contest between incumbent Republican commissioner Janet Dell and Democratic challenger Tom Distel is undecided and will be for at least another week.

The unofficial count shows Mr. Distel leading Ms. Dell by 86 votes. But there are more than enough uncounted votes to change the outcome.

It won't be known until next Tuesday who won the seat on the county's board of commissioners. That's when 350 provisional ballots will be counted.

The unofficial count has Mr. Distel at 11,487 votes and Ms. Dell at 11,401.

“We have 350 walk-in provisional ballots that we'll open and count and at least two overseas absentee ballots,” said Janet Leahy, elections board director. Walk-in ballots are those marked by people who have changed addresses or only recently moved into the county, she said.

If the final-count margin still is within 0.5 of 1 per cent, ballots will be recounted automatically in five to 10 more days, Mrs. Leahy said.

Mr. Distel, 58, said the closeness surprised him.

“I didn't expect it to be close. I thought I'd win by more votes. I talked to all the people I could, and I felt that I would win,” he said.

A Tiffin city councilman, Mr. Distel said he has never missed a council meeting or a vote in nearly nine years.

If elected, Mr. Distel said his concerns would be train traffic and keeping crossings open and putting more deputies on the road with better cars.

“Sheriff's department equipment is bad. The cars are a bunch of old junkers,” he said.

Ms. Dell, 66, said after 12 years as a commissioner, nothing surprises her. “I don't know why the vote is so close, but when you're in local politics, you realize that every decision you make pleases someone, and every decision displeases someone,” she said.

The first woman to run for the county board, Ms. Dell waltzed into her current term unopposed in the last election. “But I've been known as a progressive commissioner and some people might not like progress,” she said.

Her chief interests in the county are making public buildings handicapped accessible, renovating the courthouse, and keeping ambulances and public safety vehicles regularly replaced.

For now, both candidates wait.

“They must be on pins and needles,” Mrs. Leahy said.



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