After 19.5 hours of reviewing ballots, more than 20 official challenges and numerous questions about signatures and postmarks, Annapolis voters still did not know who their next mayor would be when elections officials called it quits at 4:35 a.m. Friday after a marathon meeting.
The Annapolis Board of Canvassers will resume their meeting at noon Friday, when they'll review more than 100 provisional ballots that were cast on Election Day on Tuesday.
Heading into that meeting, Republican mayoral candidate Mike Pantelides held on to a 50-vote lead over incumbent Democrat Josh Cohen.
Pantelides' lead was whittled from 84 votes to 50 as officials fixed an incorrect report from Tuesday, counted votes from a machine that didn't report Tuesday and tallied two rounds of absentee ballots.
The elections canvass started at 9 a.m. on Thursday and stretched into the wee hours of Friday morning.
The day alternated between the drama of attorneys debating law and the tedium of opening hundreds of envelopes. The first votes weren't tallied until just before 2 a.m. on Friday.
As of 4:35 a.m. Friday, Pantelides had 3,897 votes to Cohen's 3,847 votes.
Most of the day and night was spent discussing the validity of the absentee ballots. More than 20 challenges were filed, including against ballots that were accepted with a questionable signature or without a postmark -- many in the latter category that were hand-delivered to City Hall.
The Pantelides campaign sought to disqualify as many ballots as possible and lodged a blanket challenge to every single absentee ballot on the grounds of multiple alleged election law violations, including a failure of elections officials to provided a list of absentee ballot requests before Election Day.
The Cohen campaign, needing to make up ground, sought to have as many votes counted as possible.
"We're on the side of each voter that cast a ballot, count it," said Jonathan Kagan, one of the lawyers for Cohen's campaign.
Challenged ballots were sealed in envelopes that were labeled and signed by members of the Board of Canvassers, in the event the election results end up in court.
Cohen did not attend the canvass, while Pantelides attended for several hours.
The two men are vying to lead the 38,000 residents in Maryland's historic capital city.
Though Cohen was the incumbent in a majority-Democratic city, Pantelides challenged the mayor on his decisions to push a new vision plan for downtown's City Dock, lay off city employees, raise water rates and cut back trash pickup to once a week. Pantelides said he'd bring a more business-like mentality to City Hall.
Cohen, meanwhile, has promoted his experience and ability to make tough decisions. He touted turning around the city government's finances, which were in such poor shape that the city had to take out short-term loans to stay afloat. The short-term borrowing was ended this year.
Cohen, 40, said Pantelides, 30, may have a bright future in politics but is too inexperienced to lead Annapolis now.
Attorneys for both campaigns kept a close watch on the process in the cold, musty old city recreation center. Both sides said a court challenge is likely.
"We've got our challenge forms ready," Kagan said.
The Pantelides campaign also was laying the groundwork for legal action, with lawyer Timothy Murnane at times citing case law to the three-member Board of Canvassers.