Write-in candidate tops Orono’s Tuesday town council ballot

ORONO, Maine — Voters chose new people to fill two open seats on Orono’s Town Council, unseating an incumbent councilor and voting in a write-in candidate who gathered the largest number of votes.

As part of the town’s municipal election Tuesday, there were two seats with three-year terms open on both the Town Council and Regional School Unit 26’s school board.

Write-in candidate Sarah Marx received 432 votes for the Town Council — more than the other three candidates on the ballot and another write-in who received five votes.

Daniel Demeritt, Maine Association of Health Plans executive director, also won a seat on the council, tallying 408 votes. He previously led communications for the University of Maine System and ended his time on campus directing marketing and communications for UMaine, according to information on the town website.

Orono voters cast 785 ballots in Tuesday’s election, including 288 absentee ballots, which is similar to last year’s turnout, Town Clerk Shelly Crosby said. It was unusual to see a write-in candidate come out on top in Orono, though Crosby acknowledged that this has happened in other communities.

“This has not been relatively common in Orono in recent years,” she said Wednesday.

Marx, in a post on her Facebook campaign page Wednesday, thanked Orono voters, those who worked on her campaign and fellow candidates.

“I feel honored to have this chance to serve and I look forward to working together to build an inclusive, dynamic and responsive town government,” she wrote.

She moved with her family to Orono 12 years ago and has held different jobs as a Spanish teacher in Orono schools, school counselor at John Bapst, Wilson Center director and the Church of Universal Fellowship’s director of youth programming, according to her campaign website.

“I’m honored to have this opportunity to serve my community,” Demeritt said about his victory. “I’m eager to do what I can to bring people together, to find common ground and to identify our priorities for town government.”

Meghan Gardner ran for reelection on the council, though with 391 votes, she lost her seat. She was first elected to the council in 2017 and served as vice chairperson.

Jonathan Parker received 214 votes.

“I was pleased with the turnout considering the storm conditions that we experienced,” Crosby said. “There were people who walked on foot to be sure that they had an opportunity to vote. And there was a lot of positive engagement.”

A steady stream of voters came into the town office Tuesday morning, she said, and it never really died down despite the weather. One person walked in at 7:55 p.m. to cast a ballot, she said.

Orono has seen the number of voters participating in municipal elections gradually increase in recent years, Crosby said.

In 2020, voters cast 550 ballots, she said. That climbed to 851 ballots in 2021, then dropped to 767 ballots in 2022. The turnout rose slightly this time around.

Voters chose Jacob Eckhart, who received 452 votes, and Kevin Roberge, with 418 votes, as their new school board members.

The candidates beat out Brittany Cline, with 313 votes, and a write-in candidate who received 20 votes.

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