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Baltimore mayoral primary tightens as Dixon’s lead over Scott shrinks

Baltimore’s Democratic mayoral primary tightened as the release of additional returns Saturday showed former Mayor Sheila Dixon’s lead over City Council President Brandon Scott shrinking. The number of mail-in ballots cast in Tuesday's primary continued to climb on Saturday as officials processed the latest returns.
Baltimore’s Democratic mayoral primary tightened as the release of additional returns Saturday showed former Mayor Sheila Dixon’s lead over City Council President Brandon Scott shrinking. The number of mail-in ballots cast in Tuesday's primary continued to climb on Saturday as officials processed the latest returns. (Kimberly Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore’s Democratic mayoral primary tightened as the release of additional returns Saturday showed former Mayor Sheila Dixon’s lead over City Council President Brandon Scott shrinking.

Dixon held 29% of the roughly 115,000 votes that have been counted, while Scott had 27.5%. Less than 2,000 votes separate the two front-runners.

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Turnout for Tuesday’s primary, which marked Maryland’s first attempt at a mostly mail-in election, has already surpassed that of the 2016 Democratic primary. Still, it’s unclear how many ballots remain outstanding, and there is also no precinct-level data to analyze.

Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said without concrete turnout numbers, it’s difficult to predict a winner. But Scott, 36, is showing momentum, as he narrows the gap between Dixon, 66, and himself.

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“If Brandon continues to make gains, the question is whether he has enough track left to beat her," she said. “He’s gaining on her for sure."

Baltimore City Mayor - Dem

Results of Baltimore City mayoral primary
Baltimore City Mayor Democratic
Candidate
votes
Brandon Scott (Democratic)
43,927
29.6%
Sheila Dixon (Democratic)
40,782
27.5%
Mary Miller (Democratic)
23,193
15.6%
Thiru Vignarajah (Democratic)
17,080
11.5%
Bernard C. "Jack" Young (Democratic)
9,256
6.2%
T. J. Smith (Democratic)
8,593
5.8%
Carlmichael Cannady (Democratic)
2,473
1.7%
Mary Washington (Democratic)
1,028
0.69%
Valerie Cunningham (Democratic)
339
0.23%
Keith Scott (Democratic)
295
0.2%
Yasaun Young (Democratic)
184
0.12%
Ralph Johnson, Jr. (Democratic)
177
0.12%
Yolanda Pulley (Democratic)
152
0.1%
Lou Catelli (Democratic)
151
0.1%
Dante Swinton (Democratic)
143
0%
Michael Jenson (Democratic)
131
0%
Brian Salsberry (Democratic)
129
0%
Rikki Vaughn (Democratic)
116
0%
Liri Fusha (Democratic)
57
0%
Terry McCready (Democratic)
46
0%
Sean Gresh (Democratic)
45
0%
James Jones II (Democratic)
33
0%
Erik Powery (Democratic)
32
0%
Frederick Ware-Newsome (Democratic)
31
0%
3 of 4 precincts reporting

In other returns updated Saturday night, state Del. Nick Mosby maintained his substantial lead in the Democratic primary for Baltimore City Council president. In the Democratic primary for Baltimore comptroller, City Councilman Bill Henry widened his lead over longtime incumbent Joan Pratt.

The number of Democratic ballots cast is approaching 150,000, according to elections board data. Ballots are still coming in, city elections director Armstead Jones said Saturday in an interview at a warehouse where machines opened envelopes, and masked workers stacked ballots for scanning.

Elections officials will resume counting ballots Sunday morning. Results are scheduled to be certified by Friday.

The latest mayoral returns put even more distance between the front-runners and the rest of the crowded pack. Former U.S. Treasury official Mary Miller had 16% of the vote, while former state Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah had roughly 12%.

Scott’s continued gains “speak to this being incredibly close,” said Todd Eberly, professor of political science and public policy at St. Mary’s College.

Eberly said it appears there are enough ballots left to be counted that Scott could possibly overtake Dixon, if he were to continue to make gains at the pace of the last few days.

Scott may have benefited from winning over voters who weren’t initially certain who to vote for, he said.

“What you’re seeing now is the late deciders,” Eberly said.

Dixon served as mayor from 2007 to 2010, and earned a reputation as a competent city manager who oversaw a decline in violent crime. She is seeking to reclaim her old seat a decade after she was forced to resign amid a public corruption scandal.

She has a strong base of support among many black residents, particularly on Baltimore’s West Side. Polls indicated that many of her supporters had made up their minds a long time ago in Dixon’s favor.

Scott has meanwhile campaigned on the idea that it’s time for a generational shift in City Hall. He’s argued that he has the ability to unite the city during a tumultuous time.

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The primary was conducted as thousands took to Baltimore’s streets to protest George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis and the disproportionate deaths of black men and women in police custody. The next mayor will also have to grapple with Baltimore’s unrelenting crime rate and the pervasive impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Marvin James, Scott’s campaign manager, spent Saturday at the warehouse to watch the canvassing and said he was encouraged that Scott had begun to eat into Dixon’s margin.

But James said the campaign remained concerned about the process.

“We are here today because we want to be able to make sure that we’re an eye from the campaign, but also more importantly for the city,” James said. “He (Scott) stands with the frustrated voters of the city who want to see a very transparent and a very open process to the voting system. I think there are a lot of things that have gone wrong."

There have been a number of issues with the election. Officials found the ballot’s design in the District 1 Council race left it out of alignment with scanners, resulting in confusion in that race as the first results were reported. The problem is being rectified by manually duplicating all vote-by-mail ballots cast.

Results have been slow in coming, many voters on primary day faced long lines, and state officials blamed a vendor for hundreds of thousands of ballots being delivered late to Baltimore voters with fewer than two weeks remaining before the primary. Many voters at the polls Tuesday said they never received ballots at home.

Republican Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford has called for the resignation of State Administrator of Elections Linda Lamone, and Democratic leaders of the General Assembly demanded her appearance and that of State Board of Elections Chair Mike Cogan at a joint legislative hearing June 16.

Down the ballot, Kromer said Henry is “putting some distance” between him and Pratt in the normally low-key race for comptroller. Pratt has served as the city’s fiscal watchdog since 1995 and rarely has faced a competitor.

“That’s an exciting race,” she said.

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