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Sheila Dixon says she won't challenge result in Baltimore mayor's race

Sheila Dixon, center, observes workers at the Baltimore Board of Elections as they count ballots.
Sheila Dixon, center, observes workers at the Baltimore Board of Elections as they count ballots. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

Former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon said Wednesday she will not seek a recount of last month's Democratic primary election for mayor, which she lost to state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh.

"I'd like to thank the people of Baltimore for their votes, their love and their support throughout this campaign. Baltimore has a lot to be proud of about the high voter participation in this election," Dixon said in a statement.

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Pugh was officially declared the winner of the race on Monday by 2,449 votes. She captured 36.6 percent of the vote to Dixon's 34.7 percent. Lawyer Elizabeth Embry finished third with 11.7 percent.

The campaign is not planning any other legal challenge to the election, a Dixon spokeswoman said. But the former mayor urged elections officials improve their administration of future balloting.

"I also encourage the Board of Elections to rectify the issues with judges and training, late poll openings and collection of Election Day data before the November elections so that the people of Baltimore have full faith in the administration of elections in our city," Dixon said.

She also continued to question the Pugh campaign's effort to bus Election Day job applicants to polling sites during early voting, a strategy Pugh has repeatedly defended.

"There are still a number of outstanding questions about the election," Dixon said.

Precinct-level data shows Dixon was victorious in most predominantly black precincts on Election Day, but fared poorly among white voters. Pugh, meanwhile, won a majority of predominantly white precincts and finished second in many black communities.

Pugh had no comment Wednesday afternoon on Dixon's decision. She said she was focused on building an administration that would include a diverse group of Baltimoreans.

"I'm looking forward to the general election," Pugh said. "I'm looking forward to uniting the community and bringing everybody together."

Todd Eberly, a St. Mary's College political science professor, said given the gulf in votes between Dixon and Pugh, challenging the primary results would have cost Dixon any credibility she gained by running a strong campaign and finishing second in a crowded field.

"That difference is not going to go away," Eberly said. "If she had pressed it, realizing the gap wasn't going to close, it would have been political suicide."

Eberly said the best move for Dixon was to move on graciously and look toward other political opportunities. Doing so is a symbolic step toward unifying the city, he said.

Martha McKenna, a spokeswoman for Dixon, said the campaign is not planning any legal challenges. Dixon did alert the state attorney general during early voting to accusations that Pugh was running an alleged "vote-buying scheme" by offering people $100 jobs and then busing them to the polls.

More than 3,600 more ballots were cast for Pugh than Dixon during early voting. Dixon, who won Election Day by more than 1,000 votes, has questioned whether Pugh's busing cost her the election.

The attorney general forwarded Dixon's grievance to the state prosecutor's office, which has not said whether it will investigate.

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McKenna said the Dixon campaign expects the former mayor's supporters will continue to push to ensure the city operates future elections better than April's primary. Some have pointed to various "irregularities" during the April 26 primary, such as electronic files from eight precincts that temporarily went missing.

"There should not be an expectation that polls open late, that memory sticks go missing," McKenna said. "There should be an expectation that polls open on time and results are accurately and quickly reported to the state board and then made public.

"That is something that Sheila Dixon and supporters of hers are going to be working toward between now and November."

Pugh, the Democratic nominee, will face Republican Alan Walden and Green Party nominee Joshua Harris in the general election. The heavily Democratic city has for decades chosen a Democrat for mayor.

The Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon, an activist with the group Voters Organized for the Integrity of City Elections, or VOICE, said concerned residents are continuing to examine problems from the election, despite Dixon's decision.

"I respect that she has a reverence for what she believes to be the will of the people in the electoral process," said Witherspoon, president of the Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "We continue to believe that there were major issues in this primary, and we believe that some of them were potentially illegal."

Witherspoon said some election judges were not hired in time to be properly informed or trained about how to carry out their job duties, causing a host of problems, such as voters being turned away from polling stations.

It's unclear what steps the activists might take.

"As people who are working to protect the integrity of the democratic process in Baltimore City, we have major concerns," Witherspoon said.

Hassan Giordano, one of the activists and a Dixon campaign volunteer, said formally challenging the election might be cost prohibitive. He said the group wants to examine how electronic voting records compare to paper ballots, among other steps, but doing so would take significant manpower.

Giordano said he is not surprised Dixon decided not to seek a recount, given the margin between her and Pugh.

"Knowing Mayor Dixon like I do, she doesn't have a heart for vengeance," he said. "She has a passion for the city. She put up her best fight."

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