Democrat Matt Smith ’98 beat independent Jessica Holmes, 670 to 622 votes, in the Ward 9 aldermanic election.

Before 62 absentee ballots were tallied late last night at 11:45 p.m., Smith led the race with 624 votes to Holmes’s 606. The election to represent Ward 9, which covers a part of the East Rock neighborhood, home to many Yale faculty and graduate students, split the ward’s Democrats; members of the Democratic Party establishment backed Smith, while Yale employee unions Locals 34 and 35 pledged to support Holmes. Voters encountered long lines at Wilbur Cross High School, the Ward 9 and Ward 10 polling station.

The Ward 9 seat was the only open aldermanic seat in New Haven Tuesday. Former Ward 9 Alderman Roland Lemar vacated the seat to run for state representative for the 96th district in the General Assembly and won the primary in August.

In the lobby of Wilbur Cross High School, Smith and his supporters cheered cautiously when the registrar announced the vote tallies.

“We haven’t won yet,” Smith said. “There’s one more mountain to climb.”

High voter turnout clogged the school, located at 181 Mitchell Drive, prompting some registered voters to leave before casting their ballots. Residents of Wards 9 and 10 shared a polling place Tuesday because East Rock Magnet School, the original polling place for Ward 9, is closed for renovations. Ward 10 is known for high voter turnout, and at one point this afternoon, almost 70 people stood in line to vote there, and some standing in the line had to leave for work, Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 said.

“It would be unfortunate if a significant amount of people won’t vote as a result, especially if the elections are close,” Elicker said. “We’ll never know if it made a difference.”

Questions remain about whether the polling station workers were processing voters inefficiently, or whether the sheer number of voters coming to vote at once was to blame for the long lines at the polling station, Elicker said. Although Holmes, also a Democrat, lost a June endorsement vote to Smith, she chose to remain in the race as an independent candidate and in the process received the endorsements of Yale’s unions, Locals 34 and 35. Holmes was once a union organizer with Local 34 and picked up $1,400 in donations from the unions. Smith, meanwhile, was backed by the Ward 9 Democratic Committee and New Haven Democratic Town Chair Susan Voigt in addition to Lemar.

“I’m happy to see all the people I’ve met at doorsteps throughout the ward actually show up today,” Smith said at the polls this afternoon.

Smith made headlines after announcing his candidacy as an openly gay candidate.

“It’s fantastic that [my being gay] is a non-issue,” Smith said in an October interview. “One of the reasons [that I’m running as an openly gay candidate], especially with what’s been in the news, is to show gay teens that it gets better.”

Smith also emphasized that knowing many East Rock residents and having a good relationship with businesses in the area will help him in his role as alderman.

“I think that’s something that sets East Rock apart: our small businesses are true community partners,” Smith added.

He told the News in the same October interview that, as alderman, he plans to focus on improving the school system and raising revenue through raising insurance reimbursement for fire department calls and even increasing parking fees, he added.

Since Holmes could not run as a Democrat on the ballot without the Ward 9 Committee’s endorsement, she faced the disadvantage of her name being placed at the very bottom of the ballot. Smith’s name was located in Row B along with the rest of the Democratic ticket. Hugh Baran ’09, a Ward 9 resident and political organizer with Local 35 who worked on Holmes’s campaign, said that if voters were not specifically looking for Holmes, they would have trouble finding her name on the ballot.

Smith received 46 absentee ballot votes while Holmes won 16.

Nick Defiesta contributed reporting.