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Baltimore recertifies primary election results, starting timeline for final challenges

Baltimore City Board of Elections officials review ballots that were found during a state investigation of irregularities in the city's primary.
Baltimore City Board of Elections officials review ballots that were found during a state investigation of irregularities in the city's primary. (Ian Duncan / The Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore's elections board recertified the results of the April primary election Wednesday after an unusual intervention by state officials. The updated vote totals didn't change the outcome of any race.

Any candidate who wants a recount now has three days to make a request. Anyone who wants to challenge the outcome of the race in court has seven days to file papers.

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State officials ordered Baltimore's election results decertified this month after city officials said they found 80 provisional ballots that had not been analyzed.

The state review, which lasted more than a week, turned up other problems: Officials concluded that roughly 1,650 ballots were not handled properly.

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The last step before finalizing the figures was analyzing 555 uncounted provisional ballots that state officials said had not been analyzed or counted. Officials had previously said they thought 465 provisional ballots had been overlooked.

On Wednesday, 386 of the ballots were rejected, city elections director Armstead B.C. Jones Sr. said. While there were several close races in Baltimore, the 169 that were counted were not enough to make a difference in any race.

The newly discovered ballots helped former Mayor Sheila Dixon close the gap on state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh by 40 votes in the Democratic mayoral primary, but she remains about 2,400 votes behind.

Pugh said Wednesday she was looking forward to the general election and that she is confident it will be well run. She said she supported the review of the primary. "I think the city did what it had to do," Pugh said.

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The Dixon campaign could not be reached after the results were recertified.

Unless a recount or court challenge is mounted, the outcome means Pugh will face Republican Alan Walden and Green Party mayoral candidate Joshua Harris in the general election in November.

The Baltimore Board of Elections convened under the watch of two state officials just after 10 a.m. Wednesday.

The original count of provisional and absentee ballots in the days after the election was closely tracked by representatives of Pugh's and Dixon's campaigns. But on Wednesday there was only a sole Dixon representative at the board's offices.

Provisional ballots are given to people who show up to vote but whose names are not on the registered voters list for the primary election at that precinct. Those ballots are supposed to be set aside so officials can determine later if the voter was eligible.

Ballots are most commonly discarded because the voter is not registered with a party holding a primary.

Activists have been raising questions about the integrity of Baltimore's April 26 election for weeks. Among the concerns: Eight data files went missing for about a day after the election, some polling precincts opened late, and 34 released felons — eligible to vote under a new law — received a letter from the Board of Elections before the primary telling them erroneously they might not be able to vote.

The state's review also found that 1,188 provisional ballots were scanned inappropriately into the vote tally on Election Day without judges verifying that the voters were eligible. Officials say those votes cannot be removed from the final tally because it's impossible now to tell whether they should have been counted.

The state has pledged to work with the city to ensure that November's primary goes more smoothly.

The Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon, an activist with Voters Organized for the Integrity of City Elections, said the results should not stand. He said his group was considering a lawsuit.

"I think the state has clearly articulated that there were irregularities," Witherspoon said. "I think the state has made a strong case, they have laid out the foundation for litigation."

A challenge in court would have to show either that the way that the election was held violated the law or that irregularities could have changed the result of a race.

A judge who concluded that problems had changed an outcome could order a new primary to be held.

"We have to have a new election," Witherspoon said. "We have to restore the broken and tarnished public trust as it relates to elections in Baltimore City."

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