Linda Johnson retains seat in Suffolk

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — City of Suffolk spokeswoman Debbie George has confirmed to Linda Johnson was elected to a third term as mayor.

Polling officials spent most of Wednesday counting thousands of absentee ballots that could change the results after races for mayor and city council were too close to call Tuesday night. The chair of Suffolk's Electoral Board says high turnout and problems with ballot counting machines made the work more tedious.

The difference between city council candidates Rob Barclay IV and Lue Ward for the Nansemond Borough was just 27 votes. Wednesday afternoon. George confirmed Ward was declared the winner just before 9 p.m. Wednesday. 

The race for mayor was also neck and neck, with incumbent Linda Johnson leading main challenger Leroy Bennett by about 1,000 votes Wednesday afternoon.

And the ballots that could have changed those results are all in one room, where polling officials counted them, by hand.

"They are hand counting the absentee ballots and that's a long process," said Kenneth Carpenter, the chair of the Suffolk Electoral Board.

Carpenter says record turnout led to a higher than usual number of absentee ballots. According to totals, 9,500 people voted absentee in Suffolk this year. Of those, 5,700 were paper ballots. The problem is the machine that records paper ballots is finicky, and won't accept some ballots, for one reason or another.

"It could be they did erasers on there, it could be they didn't mark it correctly, maybe they spilled food on it," said Carpenter, explaining possible reasons the ballots can't be read by the machine.

When the machine rejects paper ballots, a handful of workers inherit the painstaking task. They had more than 4,000 ballots to get through Wednesday. And, the differences in the races for mayor and city council are much less than that.

Voters say they want the right results, but were tired of waiting.

"It's a lot of extra time," said James Salmon, a Suffolk voter. "It delays the announcement of who actually won the political position and so forth. It's silly."

Another voter told she hopes her absentee vote didn't hold up the political process.

To see up to date results for Suffolk races, click here.

In the 2008 presidential election, Suffolk workers counted absentee ballots for three days.

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