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With Circuit Court judge race still undecided, trailing candidate putting support behind competitor

In the still-undecided race for a seat on the Circuit Court for Carroll County, initial ballot counts show sitting Judge Richard Titus holding a commanding lead, and trailing candidate George Psoras Jr. has decided to put his support behind second-place candidate Laura Morton.

Titus led overall in the primary when the first results were released at about 11:20 p.m. Tuesday, with 9,955 votes across Republicans and Democrats, or 58.7%. Morton followed with 4,656, or 27.4%, and Psoras had 2,354, or 13.9%. These results accounted for mailed ballots received prior to May 16 and votes cast in person Tuesday, according to Katherine Berry, Carroll County election director.

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“I’m very encouraged by the results so far,” Titus said Wednesday, acknowledging that thousands of ballots have yet to be counted.

Berry said 1,233 people voted at the polls and 19,588 mail-in ballots were counted Tuesday. There are 16,274 mail-in ballots to be counted between Thursday and Saturday, she said Wednesday evening. Remaining ballots will be counted next week, she said. Berry expects more will come in the mail as ballots postmarked June 2 will still be counted.

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On Wednesday, the election office received about 2,700 more ballots from the post office. Counting will be completed by June 12.

While Berry said early results tend to historically be reflective of the final tally, many ballots have yet to be counted and “anything’s possible,” she said.

However, Psoras said Wednesday he’s anticipating Titus and Morton will secure their places on the general election ballot when the primary election counts are complete. Psoras, trial attorney and litigator, has been practicing law for 34 years and is now based at the Lutherville office of his firm.

Psoras said the pandemic of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, prevented him from connecting with voters in person and holding events.

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“I was thwarted by the coronavirus,” Psoras said.

Titus and Morton also acknowledged less face-to-face time with voters made campaigning difficult.

“It’s made it more difficult, but I don’t think it has been impossible," Morton said. Above all, the most important thing is to make sure we follow the guidelines and keep the voters safe."

Psoras attributed Titus’ now-likely victory to money spent on advertising and the endorsement of Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees.

Psoras called Titus a hypocrite for accepting campaign contributions. “Does money buy votes? The answer appears, it does,” he said.

Titus declined to respond to Psoras’ comments.

Gov. Larry Hogan appointed Titus appointed to the bench in November to fill the seat left vacant by the retiring Judge Barry Hughes. Titus has served on the Circuit Court once before, beginning in 2016, when Hogan appointed him to fill the vacancy left by the retiring Judge J. Michael Galloway. Titus ran for re-election in 2018 but lost to Judge Maria Oesterreicher.

Psoras chose not to create a campaign website and said he posted a handful of election signs.

The Hampstead resident said he plans to support Morton moving forward.

“She’s way more qualified than Judge Titus, by far,” Psoras said. “She has my support.”

Psoras plans to run for judge again in the future, he said.

Morton said Wednesday she is happy to have the support of Psoras. She is hopeful the numbers will continue to be in her favor as the remaining ballots are counted, noting the results were not yet final.

“I feel very positive about heading into November,” she said. “I am not afraid to put myself and my qualifications out there and let the voters decide.”

Morton urged voters to consider her experience as they cast their votes in the general election. She is a Westminster attorney with 26 years of experience practicing law, spending 24 of those years practicing in Westminster. While she takes cases across Maryland, she said she primarily practices in the Carroll County court system. Morton said she has great relationships with the agencies and people who support the courts, something that would be useful as a judge.

“I am the most qualified candidate,” Morton said. "I have extensive actual trial experience in the areas of the law that are what make up the majority of the Circuit Court dockets.”

Each of the candidates thanked the voters for their support.

Mail-in system questioned

Despite the newness of holding an election largely by mail-in ballot, Berry said the day went off without a major hitch — though two candidates shared concerns with the Carroll County Times.

“It was an uneventful day,” she said.

She anticipates voter turnout will be high due to the “convenience” of mail-in ballots. In a typical presidential primary election, voter turnout in Carroll County hovers around 30%, according to Berry, and in the 2016 primary, 40% of voters came out. Currently, the primary election’s voter turnout stands at about 16.7% of 123,717 eligible voters, but Berry expects that percentage to increase as the 16,000-some remaining mail-in ballots are counted.

“I look forward to getting all the votes tallied and seeing what our voter turnout is at the end,” she said.

Titus expressed concern about the mail-in system, saying he encountered voters at the polls who, when they tried to vote, where told by elections staff their ballots had already been cast, and so they had to file provisional ballots.

“That, of course, is a concern,” Titus said.

Berry said she personally spoke to two of the 13 voters who had to cast provisional ballots in Carroll County due to address discrepancies, and plans to talk to more.

“Address discrepancies are usually addressed by use of the provisional ballots, but having never been through a massive endeavor such as vote by mail, this was a hurdle that the State Board of Elections has identified that needs re-evaluated for future elections,” she wrote in an email. "I will be personally reaching out to each Carroll County voter that encountered the need to vote a provisional ballot because of this situation and even provide them with the documentation to show that no one voted under their name. "

Psoras said he knew of people who never received their mail-in ballots.

If someone did not receive a ballot who should have, Berry said that voter should have contacted the Board of Elections office, even if it was on Election Day. She said this was communicated through numerous news releases, advertising, social media, and newspaper articles by the state and local elections offices.

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