Arlington voters elected Democrat L. Karen Darner yesterday to the Virginia House of Delegates in a special election to fill the seat made vacant by the death of Democrat Warren G. Stambaugh two months ago.

Darner received 2,272 votes, 54 percent of those cast. Republican Alice R. Tennies received 1,798 votes, or 42 percent, and Libertarian Richard E. Sincere Jr., who also campaigned for gay rights, received 148 votes, about 4 percent of the total.

Only 4,219 of the 29,807 registered voters in the 49th District cast ballots yesterday, a turnout Registrar of Voters Charlotte Cleary called dismal.

She attributed the figure to the icy weather.

The district is in south and central Arlington.

Darner, 45, is a speech therapist in the Arlington schools and a longtime Arlington political and civic activist.

She said last night that she intends to be in Richmond this morning for the opening of the General Assembly.

However, the earliest she can be sworn in is Jan. 16, the day the state Board of Elections is expected to certify the election results.

Darner said she would "do unofficial things" such as looking into office assignments and would attend Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's State of the State address in the evening.

"I feel terrific," said Darner. "I feel very excited and very grateful to many people."

Darner repeated concerns she expressed during the campaign about the governor's plans to erase the state's $1.9 billion budget shortfall by cutting spending.

She said again that she would consider increasing taxes rather than cut worthwhile social service programs.

"I want to make sure we don't lose ground on the things people in the state have determined are needs," she said.

Tennies, 46, is a former teacher and federal employee and longtime school activist who said during the campaign that the state's budget woes result from Democratic mismanagement.

She opposed new taxes but favored using state contingency funds rather than cutting some programs.

"I'm disappointed. But I gave it all I've got," she said last night.

Sincere, 31, a writer and editor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, argued for cutting the budget by at least one-fourth and for the traditional Libertarian philosophy of reducing government regulation.

He also called for repeal of Virginia's sodomy law.

"I thought we would do a bit better," he said last night, adding that his campaign "raised issues that otherwise wouldn't have been raised. It's one battle within a long war of ideas."