Harford counts absentee ballots with newly named acting elections director in charge

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Cynthia Allred, who was named acting director of the Harford County Board of Elections just over a week ago, oversaw the first of three post-election ballot counts Thursday morning.

Allred was on hand for the canvass of more than 2,500 absentee ballots at the elections office in Forest Hill. She had support from the five-member elections board, which had the final say on any ballots submitted for rejection, elections office senior staff and at least two officials from the Maryland State Board of Elections.

“[They] are to assist, since I am a new acting director,” Allred said of the state elections personnel as workers who had been reviewing the ballots left for a lunch break.

Allred, a former elections board member and chief election judge, became acting director effective Oct. 31 after elections Director Kevin Keene and Deputy Director Dale Livingston were placed on paid administrative leave.

Bel Air attorney Brian K. Young, the board counsel, declined to say why Keene and Livingston had been put on leave, calling it an “internal personnel matter.”

“Nothing further can be discussed at this time,” he said at the elections office Thursday.

Young noted the leave is “not related to any conduct affecting the operation of the election.”

“The election in Harford County was, once again, the smoothest-operating election in the state,” he said. “That’s the focus of the board at this time.”

Young said a term has not been set for Allred’s time as director. He said she will be acting director “indefinitely.”

Deputies from the Harford County Sheriff’s Office were also on hand, with one to two deputies in the office at a time, because several races remained close after the polls closed on Election Day Tuesday, according to Allred.

Incumbent Del. Glen Glass, a Republican, was in third place in the race for two Subdistrict 34A seats in the Maryland House of Delegates, only 25 votes behind the second-place candidate, Democrat Steve Johnson, as of Tuesday.

Republican County Councilman Curtis Beulah was ahead of his Democratic opponent, Wini Roche, in his race for a second term representing District F on the council, by 310 votes as of Tuesday, according to the unofficial election results.

Beulah and his wife, Jean, observed the ballot counting Thursday. Glass also observed, along with his House colleague, Democratic Del. Mary Ann Lisanti.

Lisanti was in first place as of Tuesday with a comfortable lead — she finished with 12,970, compared to 11,353 for Johnson and 11,328 for Glass. Republican challenger J.D. Russell was in fourth place with 9,259 votes.

Johnson and Beulah were still in the lead in their respective races after the absentee count Tuesday.

Lisanti said she was observing to ensure “every properly cast vote is counted” and to reassure the public of the local election system’s integrity “although we’ve had change in management.” She also indicated the presence of state elections officials to observe and provide support.

“Certainly I have every confidence that that the election process was fair and in accordance with the laws of Maryland,” Lisanti said. “It’s important for the public to have that level of confidence as well.”

One state official stepped in as Barbara Osborn Kreamer, a former County Council member and state delegate, disputed with Allred the level of public access as workers counted the ballots.

Kreamer, a Democrat who made an unsuccessful primary run for state senator earlier this year, urged Allred to adjust the layout of the areas where observers could watch, for even greater public view.

Workers were at tables on either side of the counting room, nestled among spaces for ballot scanners and a separate seating area for the elections board. Candidates and citizen observers could stand behind the table on the left-hand side of the room or stand between the counting tables.

People could also sit to the side and observe, and elections staff were on hand to answer questions. The state’s rules for observing a canvass, which are posted on the Harford County Board of Elections website, https://harfordvotes.info, require observers to “maintain a reasonable distance” from workers as they count ballots.

Allred declined to change the layout despite Kreamer’s protests. The state official stepped in and said she thought Allred and the elections staff had “done a terrific job” of providing public access within the available space.

Kreamer said she would file a complaint and left after getting Allred’s contact information.

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