BELFAST, Maine — Absentee voters made the difference in carrying incumbent Ward 2 City Councilor Roger Lee to another two-year term in office and prevented the recall of Ward 3 Councilor Cathy Heberer and Ward 4 Councilor Jan Anderson.
In the other council races, Lewis Baker topped a three-person ballot for the Ward 5 seat and Marina Delune won an unopposed victory in Ward 1.
In other municipal results, Robert Anderson was elected to a three-year term on the SAD 34 board of directors, and Miles Gray was elected to a two-year term on the school board.
City voters approved the school consolidation merger between SAD 34 and SAD 56 in Searsport by a vote of 2,238 to 1,346.
More than 1,600 residents cast absentee ballots in this year’s race, and it was not until those votes were tabulated three hours after the polls closed that the future of Lee, Heberer and Anderson was assured.
The final results in the three-person race for Ward 2 showed Lee with 1,295 votes, Julieta Zeilor with 1,032 and Ernest Howie with 509. Zeilor had held a lead over Lee until the absentee votes were counted.
In the three-way race for Ward 5, Baker polled 1,238 votes, Jeanne Gail tallied 1,155 and Blaine Richardson received 473.
Marina Delune was unopposed for the Ward 1 seat and polled 2,237 votes.
In the recall race, 1,863 voters opposed recalling Heberer while 1,484 voted in favor of the recall. For Anderson, 1,882 voter opposed her recall while 1,447 voted in favor.
The move to recall Anderson and Heberer was mounted by a group of residents angry over their vote to change the zoning on a tract of land that had been designated as suitable for a big-box store.
The 80-acre Special Commercial District had been established by referendum and many in the city were angry that the City Council overturned that vote. The council did so after having established a big-box district its members felt was more suitable for development than the one favored by the voters. Supporters of the recall were able to obtain the 1,200 signatures needed to place the measure on the ballot but were unable to overcome the city-wide support for Anderson and Heberer.
More than 1,600 absentee ballots were filed in advance of the election, prompting City Clerk Roberta Fogg to rent another vote counting machine to handle them. Fogg began processing the ballots when the polls opened Tuesday morning and was still tabulating them two hours after the polls closed.
Also playing a part in the outcome of the municipal election was the large number of voters who left their ballots blank when it came to choosing a City Councilor. In the Ward 1 race, there were 1,529 blank ballots, in Ward 2 there were 970 and in Ward 5 there were 942. In the Heberer recall election, there were 468 blank ballots and in the Anderson election there were 487.
Former Mayor Michael Hurley attributed the large number of blank ballots to the number of residents drawn to the polls by the presidential election. In that historic race, 3,793 residents cast ballots for president where 2,866 voted for the most competitive of the City Council races. The Obama-Biden ticket swept the city with 2,375 votes to McCain-Palin’s 1,339.