SUNBURY - Two absentee ballots were mailed from Shamokin's 10th Ward for the 2013 general election and one of them ended up deciding the mayoral contest.

Democratic nominee Bill Milbrand defeated Republican nominee Dan McGaw by a count of 603 votes to 602 votes following the official count Friday by Northumberland County elections personnel.

Assuming the results are certified and the count is upheld if challenged in county court, Milbrand will begin a four-year term in January.

McGaw led Milbrand by nine votes after the votes cast at the city's 13 polling stations on Tuesday were tabulated. Those totals did not include absentee or provisional ballots submitted by mail.

There were 46 such ballots returned from registered voters of Shamokin, 28 of which favored Milbrand.

No one knew that much Friday, not even after 12 of the 13 stations were counted, absentees and all. Milbrand held the slimmest of leads, one vote. The two absentee ballots coming from the 10th Ward would determine the winner. McGaw needed both to win; Milbrand needed just one to hold his lead.

With all the uncertainty surrounding the mayoral election, Milbrand was certain of this: he had one absentee ballot in his favor coming from the 10th Ward. That proved true. He had one. So did McGaw.

There was a confused moment when the 10th Ward's returns were announced. McGaw wasn't sure he had lost and Milbrand thought he had won by more than a single vote.

The totals were confirmed by elections personnel.

'Happy, ecstatic'

The candidates had been sitting at opposite ends of a conference room inside the county administration center. They walked toward each other, shook hands and shared a quick hug.

Both were stunned.

"Obviously I'm happy. I'm ecstatic," Milbrand said minutes after the results were tabulated. He thanked all who voted in his favor, specifically those who mailed absentee ballots.

McGaw was gracious in defeat. He played it off a bit, laughed, but he admitted Friday's process was tense. Although he didn't say for certain that he would challenge the results - contentions must be filed in county court five days after the results are officially certified - he didn't exactly concede defeat.

"I don't know that it's over yet because I think we both have issues with some things," McGaw said, declining to elaborate. He said he'd decide on a challenge after the votes are certified, which should come by mid-week.

"It was about as close as you can get," he said.

Milbrand was elected to a four-year term on city council in 2011. With his expected move to the mayor's office, the remaining two years of his council term must be filled by an appointment. That appointment will be made by a vote of the new version of city council: Mayor Milbrand, longtime Councilman R. Craig Rhoades and newly elected council members Barbara Moyer and Charlie Verano.

McGaw's run at the mayor's office held several surprises, including his decision to run in the first place. A Bloomsburg native, he's lived in Shamokin for at least 10 years, but hadn't made any noise politically. He did when he threw his hat in the ring in seeking the Republican nomination in May's primary election, and he ran unopposed.

Milbrand's intentions were no secret even before announcing his candidacy: he wanted to become mayor. He faced stiff competition in May when he and Rhoades squared off for the Democratic nod. He was the favorite coming out of the primary and had a highly visible presence from roadside campaign signs alone.

McGaw said he was aggressive in the two weeks leading up to Nov. 5. He went door to door, shook hands, put his face to a name that many may not have known too well. It worked, and he ultimately won five voting precincts and missed winning four more by seven votes or less.

But 40 percent of the absentee ballots wasn't enough to overcome a known entity in Milbrand, who, barring any more surprises, will become the next mayor of Shamokin.

Results of official count

Dan McGaw led Bill Milbrand by nine votes heading into Friday's official count. The first figure represents the vote total cast per polling station in Tuesday's general election. The second figure represents that total plus any absentee or provisional votes added during the official count. Since the stations were counted in order, the last column represents how McGaw's lead was lessened and eventually overcome. Milbrand won 603 to 602.

Ward Polling station Dan McGaw Bill Milbrand Lead

1 Knights of Columbus 35-35 30-32 McGaw by 7

2-1 St. Francis Home Assn. 36-38 31-32 McGaw by 8

2-2 Rescue Fire Co. 46-46 20-20 No change

3 Career/Arts center 57-59 42-44 No change

4-1 IBEW 607 49-52 65-68 No change

4-2 Raspberry Hill 91-93 33-35 No change

5-1 Mother Cabrini* 26-26 48-54 McGaw by 2

5-2 Mother Cabrini 47-50 49-51 McGaw by 3

6 West End Fire Co. 60-61 67-68 No change

7 Liberty Hose Co. 79-79 77-81 Milbrand by 1

8 1st United Methodist 19-22 47-50 No change

9 Trinity Lutheran 18-19 39-40 No change

10 CMA Church 21-22 27-28 No change

*Temporary location

Official vote county from Northumberland County elections personnel