In a back-and-forth election drama that began with a tie, moved to a coin flip and wound up with a hand recount of the ballots, Marylee Abrams will likely keep her seat on the Maplewood City Council.
Incumbent Abrams finished five votes ahead of challenger Nikki Villavicencio in Tuesday’s recount, after election judges brought the ballots out from their sealed boxes and counted them one-by-one.
The result reversed a coin flip, won by Villavicencio, that the candidates had used to break the initial tie reported after Election Day.
But it may not be over yet.
Villavicencio is challenging the way four ballots were tallied during the recount. That includes votes that weren’t counted by machines because the circles weren’t filled out completely, or marked with an “X” or checkmark, Villavicencio said. The Canvassing Board, which is comprised of City Council members, will meet as early as Monday to hear the ballot challenges.
Villavicencio’s appeal also includes at least one ballot that was ruled a vote for Abrams, but Villavicencio believes it was actually a vote for her.
“It was clear to me and my team that these were votes for me,” Villavicencio said.
But Abrams said she doesn’t believe there are enough votes under review to change the outcome.
“We’ve seen the ballots that are being challenged, and I’m pretty confident that at least a couple of them are going to be ruled in my favor,” Abrams said.
Both candidates started out Tuesday with 5,755 votes, making their race the first to be tied in Ramsey County in at least 30 years, according to the county election office.
They had flipped a silver dollar to break the tie, which Villavicencio won. But under state law the tie triggered a recount, which resulted in a victory for Abrams, with 5,757 votes, against Villavicencio’s 5,752. Had the two remained tied, Villavicencio would have taken the seat on account of the coin flip.
Abrams said she is “thrilled” to be given a second term on the council. The three weeks since the election have been something of a civics lesson, she said.
“You just see how important every vote is,” Abrams said. “And seeing how the recount works, it shows how incredibly dedicated our election judges are. Ramsey County did a fabulous job in terms of transparency and integrity, checking and rechecking the ballots with multiple eyes any time there was a discrepancy.”