Updated from 2:44 p.m. EDT

There's a shootout going down at El Paso ( EP), but it may be a while yet before the smoke clears.

This afternoon investors decided Wall Street's highest-profile proxy battle. They could cast their lot with current management, which has overseen the loss of billions of dollars in shareholder wealth through a failed push into the risky energy-trading business. Or they could select a dissident slate led by El Paso holder Selim Zilkha, which promises to return the Houston energy merchant to its strong roots in the natural gas business but has drawn flak for its failure to offer a specific revitalization plan.

With El Paso and the dissidents alike making fevered last-minute pitches to undecided stakeholders, it wasn't apparent at the close of business Tuesday which side held the advantage. El Paso's management said during its midafternoon presentation to shareholders that it believed it had won; the dissidents didn't immediately comment. But as Tuesday's 3 p.m. EDT voting deadline passed, one thing seemed clear: that everyone will have to wait before a victor is crowned.

That's because the independent firm hired to provide an official vote count says a final tally won't be available any time soon, perhaps not for weeks. Michael Barbera, a principal at proxy tabulator IVS Associates of Newark, Del., said it's impossible to know exactly when IVS might issue a final vote count. But he said IVS certainly won't make any judgment on the results Tuesday, because it must first take possession of the actual proxy ballots before even starting its work.

Of course, that doesn't preclude either El Paso or the dissidents from issuing their own comments. And if the past month has been any indication of what's to come, neither side is likely to remain silent for long.

The Zilkha group, after all, has in recent weeks cited the support of institutional proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services and the AFL-CIO, the big labor organizer. For its part, El Paso's management has won the votes of Brandes Investment Partners, its third-largest shareholder. And both sides have spent much time lobbing spitballs across the room, each calling the other unfit to lead a complicated operation in a tumultuous time.

The vote comes during a season of investor discontent, focused in part on corporate insiders and their perceived lack of accountability during the stock market meltdown of the last few years. With its recent stock market underperformance and its lush executive compensation, El Paso underlines many of investors' new millennium concerns. The stock, which has nearly tripled off its late-winter lows and yet remains 60% off its 52-week high, rose 37 cents Tuesday to $9.04.

If you liked this article you might like

Lessons Learned From the Hedge Fund Crisis

Lessons Learned From the Hedge Fund Crisis

Why There's Still Hope for Detroit

Why There's Still Hope for Detroit

GM's Biggest Foe Could Be Time

GM's Biggest Foe Could Be Time

Humana's Learning to Change With the Times

Humana's Learning to Change With the Times

Health Insurers See 'Universal' Opportunity

Health Insurers See 'Universal' Opportunity