Campaign volunteers greet voters on Tuesday morning at Thomas S. Wootton High School. Credit: Caitlynn Peetz

This story was updated at 12:05 a.m. July 20, 2022, to include updated numbers and more information.

As votes are counted in the Montgomery County Board of Education races in Tuesday’s primary, the front runners are beginning to come into focus.

Based on results of ballots cast during early voting and with about half of the county’s precincts reporting Tuesday night, Grace Rivera-Oven (46.5% of votes) and Esther Wells (28.3%) were leading in the District 1 race. The incumbent, Judy Docca, did not run for re-election.

The top two vote-getters in each race will move on to the general election in November.

In District 3, former Montgomery County Public Schools employee Julie Yang is far outpacing her challengers with nearly 62% of votes counted, the largest lead of all school board races. The incumbent, Scott Joftus, follows with 21%.

In an interview Tuesday night, Yang said she was “feeling super excited and grateful” about her lead.

“I’m the girl who grew up in a one-room apartment and came to the United States at the age of 22 speaking English as a second language,” Yang said, thanking her friends, family, coworkers and supporters for helping her succeed. “So it’s all really humbling.”

The closest race as of Tuesday night was in District 5, with Valerie Coll (39.9%) leading incumbent Brenda Wolff (38.6%) and challenger Dawn Iannaco-Hahn (21.5%).

In the at-large race, incumbent Karla Silvestre led as of Tuesday night with 54.2% of votes. Mike Erickson had received about 18.6% of votes and was in second place.

Silvestre said in an interview Tuesday night that she’s “happy with the results so far” but acknowledged “we have a long tabulation period” before results are finalized.

But, she said, it would be an “honor” to move on to the general election and potentially serve a second term.

“I love serving on the school board,” she said. “… We had such an unusual first term and I’m really excited, if I have the opportunity to have a second term, to really work on the things that are important to me and to the school system.”

Coll, Wolff and Rivera-Oven could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Candidates endorsed by the Montgomery County Education Association (Yang, Coll and Rivera-Oven) were among the top vote-getters in their respective races, according to early results.

The vote totals, as reported by the State Board of Elections as of 12 a.m. were:

District 1
Grace Rivera-Oven: 25,486 (46.4%)
Esther Wells: 15,388 (28%)
Alex Fahmy: 7,080 (12.9%)
Jay Guan: 6,977 (12.7%)

District 3
Julie Yang: 34,697 (60.9%)
Scott Joftus (incumbent): 12,446 (21.8%)
Marcus Alzona: 9,840 (17.3%)

District 5
Valerie Coll: 21,664 (39.6%)
Brenda Wolff (incumbent): 21,128 (38.6%)
Dawn Iannaco-Hahn: 11,923 (21.8%)

At-large
Karla Silvestre (incumbent): 29,939 (53.4%)
Mike Erickson: 10,389 (18.7%)
Michael Fryar: 8,717 (15.7%)
Domenic Giandomenico: 6,479 (11.7%)

County officials say it’s unlikely that close races will be called Tuesday night or Wednesday morning because election workers aren’t allowed to start counting mail-in ballots until Thursday due to state law.

According to State Board of Elections data, 115,289 mail-in ballots had been delivered to voters in Montgomery County. As of Monday night, 29,388 had been received by the county Board of Elections.

Although school board members run by district, all eligible voters in the county could vote for each seat, regardless of where they live. School board races are nonpartisan; the top two vote-getters in each race will move on to the general election in November.

Both Silvestre and Wolff are running for their second terms on the board, after first having been elected in 2018. Joftus was appointed in December, to serve the remainder of Pat O’Neill’s term following her death in September. Yang had applied to fill the position but was not chosen.

On Tuesday night, she said she was not deterred by the school board’s decision not to appoint her.

“That was an appointment. This is an election,” Yang said. “That didn’t change why I wanted to serve or why I decided to run, which is wanting to bring my knowledge and experience as an educator to address students’ needs. That is why I want to serve and that has not changed.”

Docca, 82, was first elected to the board in 2006 and was re-elected three times. She did not run for re-election this year and her term will expire in December. Docca previously worked for MCPS for 38 years.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com