The vote comes during a difficult period for the school board, which has been beset by personality clashes, infighting, and calls by some community groups to either resolve conflicts or step down.
Challengers have said throughout the campaign that they would work to improve the tenor of discussion, while incumbents have argued that despite their differences they preside over an effective system.
Incumbent Janet Siddiqui was the leader of the school board last year when it voted to request Dyer's removal, accusing him of bullying and breaching confidentiality requirements. She led the voting with 97 percent of the precincts reporting. Incumbent Ellen Flynn Giles was third.
"I am pleased with the results so far and I'm looking forward to continuing my work on the board for the children of Howard County," Siddiqui said.
Several newcomers were making strong bids. Coming in second was Ann De Lacy, former president of Howard County Education Association, a teachers' union. Jackie Scott was fourth.
"It says to me that the voters are looking for a change in the board of education," said De Lacy.
David Gertler, an adjunct professor of mathematics at Towson University, took fifth. Challenger Robert Ballinger, who was making his third run at the panel, was in sixth place.
Dyer held eighth place in incomplete returns.
The six candidates who make it through the primary will compete for three seats.
The school board adopted a resolution in June asking the state board of education to remove Dyer, who has been accused of breaching confidentiality agreements and bullying board members. The matter is before an administrative law judge, and hearings are slated to begin next month.
The Dyer controversy has drawn criticism from some groups, including the Howard County Education Association. Paul Lemle, the group's president, told school board members in February that they should either seek external mediators to help resolve their conflicts or resign their positions. The HCEA declined to endorse any of the three incumbents for re-election.
The election also follows efforts by Howard Del. Frank Turner last fall to change the makeup of the board, creating a mix of elected and appointed members. Turner sponsored the bill after some residents voiced concerns about a lack of racial and geographic diversity on the board.
Amid stiff opposition, Turner withdrew his proposal.
This year's field includes four African-American candidates and three residents of the Elkridge area.
The general election will take place in November, a few months after new superintendent Renee Foose begins her job. The school board last week selected Foose, a deputy superintendent in
She will succeed Superintendent Sydney Cousin, who will retire in July.
The other candidates are Patricia Gordon, Leslie Kornreich, Olga Butler, Jackie Scott, Jim Adams, Corey Andrews, Owen Hanratty and Mary Jo Neil.
In another Howard race, voters were choosing among three candidates for county circuit judge. Administrative judge Lenore Gelfman and William Tucker, who was recently named to the post by Gov.