Jessamy continues to question voting figures as challenger's lead widens

Patricia Jessamy's legal team is scrutinizing the results of the Baltimore state's attorney's race as challenger Gregg Bernstein's lead widened Thursday after the first round of absentee ballots were counted.

Jessamy's lawyers sent letters to both state and city election officials Thursday asking for:

•a complete list of the voting machines used in the primary election,

a guarantee that the vote verification process will be conducted in public,

the election judges' manual

and copies of the written procedures for handling voting information at the polling sites as well as for transporting it to the elections board.

"Mrs. Jessamy is not making any accusations that anything was done improperly," said Larry Gibson, one of three people on Jessamy's legal team reviewing the count. "She is simply assuring that the process is completed in an orderly way in compliance with the law and that all of the citizen's votes are properly accounted for."

The spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office said Wednesday that the prosecutor was concerned that thousands of votes were not turned in, based on a political adviser's personal count. But Baltimore Elections Board Director Armstead B.C. Jones Sr. said yesterday that all votes except for about 2,000 absentee and provisional ballots were in.

Gibson said Thursday that no one but Jessamy's lawyers was allowed to speak on her behalf from here on. "Any statements from anyone else are individual opinions," he said.

About 75 percent of the absentee votes returned in this week's primary election were counted Thursday. Bernstein received 795 votes and Jessamy got 727. A third candidate, Sheryl A. Lansey, received 109 votes.

The latest results put Bernstein ahead by 1,363 votes — 67 more than he had as of Wednesday night. More than 2,000 votes are still left to be counted, both absentee ballots and provisional, which won't be reviewed until late next week.

In a statement, Bernstein suggested he wasn't planning to declare a win, and would instead wait for the official tally, which must be certified by the city board of elections by Sept. 24 and the state board by Sept. 27.

"We are pleased to see that the absentee ballot results continue to be consistent with the final Election Day results and look forward to the certification of the election," Bernstein said.

Still, others were ready to make the call.

"At this point, it seems kind of certain that Mr. Bernstein is going to maintain his lead," said Del. Curtis S. Anderson, who was at election headquarters to hear the absentee results Thursday afternoon.

He supported Jessamy in the race and blamed the outcome on poor turnout, calling it "almost shameful" that such a close race was decided by 30 percent of the eligible voters. If more people had showed, he said, Jessamy likely would have kept her post.

And one Bernstein supporter, Steven H. Levin, of the law firm Levin & Gallagher LLC, said the results so far "reflect the fact that the citizens of Baltimore want Gregg Bernstein to be the next state's attorney."

Jessamy has held the position for 15 years, and developed a solid reputation for public service in the community. But recent street attacks and dropped court cases have raised concerns that she's not doing enough to fight crime. Bernstein, a criminal defense attorney, ran on a campaign promise of focusing on prosecution to "fight crime first."

The two have little in common, aside from law degrees. Jessamy is a black woman who grew up in the South during the civil rights era and has heavily featured prevention and treatment programs in her approach to law enforcement. Bernstein is a white man who's represented some high-profile white-collar defendants and promises now to put violent criminals away. He's done most of his public service work by donating time as a defense attorney.

Their battle for the state's attorney job was contentious.

"There was a lot of tension," Anderson said, adding that "mistakes were made on both sides," but now it was time to "take the next step." Anderson chairs the city's Annapolis delegation, and said he hoped to meet with Bernstein next week.

Meanwhile, Jessamy's legal team is keeping a close watch on the confirmation of the count.

"We're still trying to get the information as to what the returns show," said attorney John H. Morris Jr., who represents Jessamy along with Gibson and Rebecca Tabb. "We have to see the numbers and we have to understand the numbers" before determining a course of action.

If Bernstein is ultimately certified as the winner, it means significant change for Jessamy, who has said only that she'll spend more time with her grandchildren if she's ousted.

"I think she'll rebound," said Joyce Smith of the Baltimore City Democratic Central Committee. She supported Jessamy in the race and came to the elections board Thursday to hear the absentee count.

"Most of the women who get into [powerful political positions] are strong, you have to be strong," Smith said. "They don't fall apart when they lose. That stereotype is gone, along with the crying at sunsets."

Current totals

Baltimore state's attorney vote totals so far:

Bernstein: 31,187

Jessamy: 29,824

Sheryl A. Lansey: 2,361

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