Too close to call: Driehaus, Deters race could be decided by provisional ballots

12,000+ provisional ballots yet to be counted
Posted at 12:24 AM, Nov 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-09 08:51:35-05

CINCINNATI -- The race between Hamilton County Commission candidates Denise Driehaus (D) and Dennis J. Deters (R) was so close Tuesday night, election officials say the final results will likely rest on thousands of provisional ballots yet to be counted.

With all precincts reporting Tuesday night, Driehaus led Deters by a less than a 1 percent margin with 50.23 percent of the votes. That's just 1,712 more votes over the Colerain Township Republican.

That means voters may not know the final outcome of the race until after Thanksgiving, when more than 12,400 provisional ballots are counted, said Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke.

Under election rules, provisional ballots can't be opened until at least 10 days after the election. The local board of elections is scheduled to count those Nov. 28. The results are set to be certified the following day, Burke said.

If the two candidates are still within a 1.5 percent voter margin of each other after the race is certified, Ohio election rules call for an automatic recount.

In Hamilton County, provisional ballots have a recent history of favoring Democratic candidates. 

In 2008, provisional ballots flipped the outcome of Hamilton County Recorder's race - deeming Wayne Coates the winner. In 2010, provisional ballots also swayed the outcome for former Juvenile Court Judge Traci Hunter.

"This thing is going to be really close, but if we're close we know those provisional ballots could make a difference," Alex Lisner campaign manager for Driehaus said just before the final votes were tallied.

A Driehaus win will swing control of the Republican-controlled commission to Democrats. That hasn't happened since 2006 when David Pepper and Todd Portune served on the board together. 

Deters, a former Colerain Township trustee and the brother of Hamilton County Joe Deters, is currently finishing the term of former Republican commissioner Greg Hartmann. Hartmann vacated his commission seat in December.

If Deters is ultimately declared the winner, he will join fellow commissioners Republican Chris Monzel and Democrat Todd Portune, who beat Republican challenger Andrew Pappas with more than 55 percent of the vote for re-election on Tuesday.

Immediately ahead for the commission and the incoming victors will be the tough work of negotiating with the city of Cincinnati over the jointly-operated Metropolitan Sewer District. A 50-year operating agreement between the city and county  is set to expire in 2018.

Republican leaders have been vocal with discontent over Cincinnati leaders’ management of the district, prompting some to believe a Republican-controlled commission might try to cut the city out of future deals.

Driehaus has said she would work closely with city leaders to figure out the sewer system’s future. She also promised that the county would work with often-overlooked cities, neighborhoods and villages to help revitalize street corners and strengthen business districts.

Deters has said he wants to persuade county leaders try new approaches to alleviate heroin’s grip on the region.

Deters announced he would run for a full term as county commissioner in December when Hartmann stepped down.

Driehaus announced her intent to run for the office in October 2015 while finishing her fourth and final term as state representative. She could not seek re-election for that office to state-mandated term limits.