Fate of one-vote race will decide who controls Goshen council

Mayor Jeremy Stutsman addresses the crowd Tuesday as local Democrats gathered at Ignition Music Garage in Goshen for an election night watch party.

GOSHEN — Votes in nearly 30 provisional ballots could seal the outcome of the District 3 city council race, now balancing on a razor-thin margin.

The contest in the 2019 municipal election came down to a one-vote difference, so far favoring Republican Matt Schrock over Democrat Jennifer Shell. Schrock had 248 votes to Shell’s 247 Tuesday night, while independent candidate Rafael Correa picked up 33 votes.

Following an initial count, the Elkhart County Clerk’s Office said a total of 86 provisional ballots are outstanding from the elections. Of them, 28 “could affect the results in the city of Goshen,” Clerk Christopher Anderson stated in an announcement Wednesday. The other 58 provisional ballots could influence the races in Elkhart.

The county election board and provisional counters will undertake the process of counting the provisional ballots, Anderson said. That, along with finalizing the results of the election, is scheduled to be complete by Nov. 15.

In the meantime, Elkhart County Democratic Party Chairman Chad Crabtree is working with the clerk’s office to explore the possibility of seeking a recount, depending on the outcome from the provisional ballots.

“Is a recount worth it, what’s the cost, what’s the timeline? That kind of thing,” Crabtree said.

In the meantime, he’s celebrating the overall results of Tuesday’s elections in which Democratic candidates scored victories in races for Goshen clerk-treasurer, Elkhart mayor, Elkhart city council seats and Bristol clerk-treasurer.

Goshen city councilman Adam Scharf, a Democrat, unseated Republican incumbent Angie McKee in the clerk-treasurer race. Democrat Mayor Jeremy Stutsman, who was unopposed, was re-elected.

Democrat Megan Eichorn beat Republican Mark Huser to take outgoing Democrat councilwoman Julia Gautsche’s District 4 seat. Democrat Gilberto Perez Jr. was unopposed in taking over Scharf’s seat in District 5. Democrat Julia King and Republican Brett Weddell were re-elected to their at-large seats, and Republicans Jim McKee and Doug Nisley held on to their seats in District 1 and District 2, respectively.

The outcome in District 3 — Schrock and Shell are vying for the seat being vacated by Republican Mike Orgill — could determine whether Republicans maintain a 4–3 majority on the council, or whether control swings to a 4–3 majority for Democrats.

Democrat Cathy Antonelli beat Republican Bonnie Frye to take Bristol’s clerk-treasurer seat, which Crabtree pointed out is a rare win for the party.

In Elkhart, Democrats will take control of the mayor’s office and city council. Rod Roberson defeated Republican Dave Miller to succeed outgoing Republican Mayor Tim Neese.

The council, on which Republicans currently hold a 7–2 majority, will tilt to a 5–4 majority for Democrats as a result of the elections. Democrat candidates unseated three Republicans, including council president Brian Dickerson in the at-large races.

“The people of Elkhart want a different direction,” Crabtree said, and then reiterated what he told candidates Tuesday night. “Now the real work begins. Now it’s time to govern.”

Crabtree credited a combination of candidates with strong campaigns, teamwork in building the tickets on the ballot, grassroots efforts and voters seeking change as helping foster success for the party this year. A Democratic committee, operating under the county party, spearheaded the campaigns in Elkhart while Crabtree focused on strategies in Goshen and Bristol, he said.

“I think the Democratic team had a very concise, comprehensive team with a comprehensive plan,” Crabtree said. “Elkhart was very successful, which I was happy with.”

Elkhart County Republican Party Chairman Dan Holtz described the Election Day losses as a tough time for those candidates, but he praised the wins GOP candidates achieved.

“We also had some victories, which I’m proud of,” Holtz said.

Democrats have become more competitive against Republicans in Goshen over about the past 20 years, he explained. At the same time, races in Elkhart are usually hard-fought, seesaw competitions between the two parties.

Having a 7–2 majority on the Elkhart council was unprecedented for the party in his lifetime, Holtz said. He indicated the more evenly divided council coming out of the 2019 elections is more the norm.

Holtz listed Roberson’s campaign and early voting as deciding factors in favor of Democratic candidates in Elkhart.

Roberson had an earlier start in the city’s mayoral race, giving him more time to organize and raise money. He also gained momentum from facing and defeating a challenger in the primary elections in May, Holtz said. Miller had a later start, entering the race after Neese decided not to seek re-election late last year.

“We got out of the box unfortunately late in the game,” Holtz said.

He said he was also surprised by the strong absentee voting turnout, which gave Roberson a stronger lead that Miller couldn’t keep up with.

“The expansion of early voting methods has necessitated a much more long-term approach to campaigning,” he said.

Numbers show 3,055 absentee ballots were cast via in-person early voting, mailed votes and travel board votes. The total surpassed the 1,994 absentee votes that were cast in the last round of municipal elections in 2015 by 1,061 votes, Anderson said.

Voters were motivated by the contested races in Elkhart and Goshen.

“People wanted to participate in those contested races and have their voices heard,” Anderson said.

While the Goshen council’s District 3 race will hang by a thread for about another week, at least, Crabtree and Holtz are turning their focus to prepare for the 2020 elections. Next year will feature countywide races, state races, congressional races and the next presidential election.

Aimee Ambrose can be reached at aimee.ambrose@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 316. Follow her on Twitter at @aambrose_TGN.

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