LIBERAL Democrats have kept their second Sunderland Council seat but questions have been raised about how few voters bothered to make their mark.
The Millfield by-election was prompted by the death of Liberal Democrat leader Jim Hollern who lost his battle against cancer in January.
Paul Dixon, 40, a caretaker at St Aidan's School, now takes up his seat.
Yet only 18.2 per cent of Millfield's 7,000-plus voters bothered to turn-out.
In the 2004 council election, when there was a full postal ballot, the ward's turn-out was 35 per cent.
Mr Dixon, who admitted there may have been a sympathy or empathy vote after the death of Coun Hollern, said: "What I want to do is carry on the good work that Jim was doing in the ward. A lot of people are disappointed in the Labour Party and the result shows that there is an alternative in Sunderland."
A wider council election is looming in May for 25 seats and Mr Dixon believes the Lib Dems could make more gains. The other Lib Dem seat on the council is with Owen Dumpleton in Washington South.
Labour and council leader Bob Symonds said his party had put up a strong candidate with Shirley Waldron, who has been a vocal campaigner to save the Nookside Centre in Grindon.
He believed adverse publicity in the last month over the loans scandal and three terms of Tony Blair had disenchanted some of the party's vote.
Coun Symonds said that had doubled turn-outs across much of the city in previous elections.
"The Millfield turn-out has shown, once again, that there's a case for postal votes and that they really do work. Labour will be back in May," he added.
Sunderland Council is now made up of: Labour 60, Conservatives 12, Liberal Democrat 2, Independent 1.
Paul Dixon (Lib Dem) 566
Shirley Waldron (Lab) 397
Leslie Dobson (Con) 260
Jim Davison (BNP) 79