Baltimore Democratic mayoral candidate Sheila Dixon said Friday she isn't ready to give up her quest to regain her old job, though the unofficial final tally from last week's primary election showed her running behind state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh by about 2,500 votes.
The city's Board of Elections counted the last ballots shortly after 4 p.m. Friday. The final figures gave Pugh 48,665 votes to Dixon's 46,219. The result will not be official until it is certified by state election officials, which is expected to happen early next week.
Pugh declared victory on election night based on unofficial results that showed her winning 37 percent of the vote to Dixon's 34 percent. The two were the top finishers in a Democratic primary field of 13 candidates.
While counting final votes is often a formality, Dixon has said she might challenge the results. Her campaign has pointed to problems in the administration of the primary, including polls that opened late. Dixon spent much of Wednesday and Friday watching the painstaking process of counting provisional and absentee ballots.
"I came to watch the process to make sure it's fair because of all of the irregularities," Dixon said.
The Pugh campaign sent staff to watch the final count, including attorney Dara Lindenbaum. "You never know what's going to happen, but every vote was counted," Lindenbaum said Friday afternoon. "It was a pretty wide margin.",
Since election night, the board has counted 3,900 provisional and 4,100 absentee ballots in the Democratic primary. Another 3,000 provisional ballots from both primaries were thrown out for various reasons. In many cases, ballots were disqualified because voters were not registered to vote in one of the party primaries.
In the end, Dixon narrowed Pugh's election night lead by 139 votes.
Despite that tally, Dixon is not out of options. She said she is awaiting a more detailed breakdown of the votes — which was not available Friday — to see if there are any unusual patterns that might form the basis for demanding a recount or mounting a challenge in court.
"I want to see the precinct data," Dixon said. Those numbers, she said, will give her an indication of whether anecdotal evidence that has surfaced this week of various irregularities was widespread.
Martha McKenna, a spokeswoman for Dixon, said the candidate's concern is not about winning or losing as much as it about the integrity of the election, especially given the record turnout.
"Since Election Day, we've been picking up votes, but we still have so many unanswered questions," McKenna said. "We're taking this one day at a time."
McKenna said the campaign will not know whether a recount will be necessary until after receiving the precinct data. Dixon will have three days from when the Maryland State Board of Elections certifies the results to ask for the votes to be counted again. She could decide to have all of the ballots reviewed or just target particular precincts.
Dixon would have to post a bond toward covering the cost of a recount, though it would be refunded if the margin of difference in the race were sufficiently narrowed or the result changed.
Recounts are rarely sought in Maryland and are even more rarely successful. Experts have said it's unlikely that doing so in the mayoral primary this year would change the outcome, leaving Pugh to head into November's general election, where she would be the overwhelming favorite to win in heavily Democratic Baltimore.
She would face Republican Alan Walden and the Green Party's Joshua Harris.
Dixon sat with several campaign workers Friday during the lengthy vote-counting process. Provisional ballots have to be examined to make sure they are eligible to be counted. For absentee ballots and in cases where voters cast a provisional ballot at a polling place other than their own, election officials have to re-create ballot papers by hand.
So while the results of more than 100,000 early and Election Day votes were available within hours of the polls closing, counting the last few thousand required several days of work.
The very last ballots to be counted were 35 cast after the regular poll closing time at four polling places that a city judge ordered to stay open an hour later than scheduled after allegations that they had not opened on time on the morning of the primary. Those voters favored Dixon over Pugh, 20 votes to 12.
When everything was done, city election board director Armstead B.C. Jones Sr. brought out roses to honor his staff on Mother's Day weekend.
"You've done it again," he told them.
Activists criticized Jones this week after some ballots went missing on election night and amid allegations that some election judges wrongly turned away voters.
But board of elections president Eleanor Wang thanked him to applause and cheers from the staff.
"Your leadership and your hard work has been so commendable," she said. "We are honored that you are our director."