Recount begins Thursday in Democratic primary for Baltimore County executive separated by 9 votes

A recount will begin Thursday in the Democratic primary for Baltimore County executive, where former Del. Johnny Olszewski Jr. has been declared the winner by just nine votes.

State Sen. Jim Brochin, who finished second, submitted a petition Tuesday for a manual recount of the nearly 85,000 ballots cast in the election. His request came just hours after elections officials certified the results, and will push a final resolution of the primary well into next week.

“I just want certainty, and I think — one way or another — this is going to give it to us,” Brochin said.

Olszewski emerged as the winner a full 10 days after the election, only after provisional and absentee ballots were reviewed and tallied. Olszewski received 27,804 votes to Brochin’s 27,795.

County Councilwoman Vicki Almond was in third with 26,835 votes, and Carney resident Kevin Marron finished with 2,135 votes. Almond’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The winner of the Democratic primary faces Republican nominee Al Redmer Jr., who handily defeated state Del. Pat McDonough in the GOP primary.

Under state law, the Brochin campaign does not have to pay for the recount because the margin of victory was less than 0.1 percent. Elections officials expect the process to take about five days and haven’t yet estimated how much it will cost.

Olszewski said he supports the recount.

“I continue to support any effort to ensure that every vote is counted and every voice is heard,” he said. “I have complete confidence in the work conducted by the Board of Elections and the elections staff.”

Campaign staff and attorneys for both Olszewski and Brochin met with elections officials Tuesday to learn more about the recount process. Brochin’s campaign attorney, Tim Hodge, said they’ve asked election officials for “a full manual recount for every vote that was made.”

“There’s going to be a paper recount of all the votes from early voting, Election Day, absentees and provisionals,” he said.

To conduct the count, elections officials will set up about 20 bipartisan teams of judges who will review ballots in groups of 10.

As they go through them, judges will call out the selection on each ballot, and that will be tallied by a third person who serves as a recorder, said Andrew Bailey, attorney for the Baltimore County Board of Elections.

Any ballots with questionable marks from voters will be sent to election board members for a ruling.

“Some of those will come up during the recount because they’ve never been subject to visual scrutiny by human eyes to discern: Is this an actual vote? Or is this an errant mark?” Bailey said. “All of those things will go to the board to review.”

One area where vote totals could change is in 93 “over votes” that have been identified in the race. An over vote is when a voter marked an oval on the ballot for more than one candidate — and so no candidate received credit for the vote.

A preliminary audit from a state contractor and state election officials indicates some of those over votes, when reviewed by human eyes, could be identified as votes for one of the candidates.

State elections officials showed examples to the campaigns during a webinar Monday, including ballots where two ovals were filled in, but one was crossed out — an indication that a voter may have changed his or her mind or mistakenly voted for the wrong candidate.

The state’s preliminary review of over votes suggests Olszewski might gain about five votes.

Brochin said he thinks there’s room for totals to change based on other ballots where voters might not have fully filled in the ovals.

“These are things now that are challengeable, and should be,” he said.

As the losing candidate, Brochin had four options for a recount: manually tabulating reports from the ballot scanners, scanning the paper ballots again, manually recounting the scanned images of the ballots or manually recounting the paper ballots themselves.

Recounts can also involve all votes cast or just some votes, such as those from a particular precinct, an early voting center, absentee ballots or provisional ballots.

Brochin selected a manual recount of all paper ballots.

Baltimore County last had a recount four years ago in the Republican primary for county executive. In that race, George Harman initially defeated Tony Campbell by 18 votes, but his margin expanded to 20 votes after two provisional ballots were counted in his favor during the recount. Harman lost the general election to Kevin Kamenetz.

That recount involved about a quarter as many ballots compared to the Olszewski-Brochin review, and also different technology. Maryland had touch-screen computer voting in 2014, so elections officials printed out images of the votes that were cast and counted them manually.

Baltimore County elections staff will be supplemented by workers on loan from Howard County and Baltimore City.

On Wednesday, Baltimore County will be helping in Howard, where a recount is planned in a County Council race decided by two votes. That recount is expected to be finished before the Baltimore County executive recount starts Thursday, Bailey said.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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