Political newcomer Liz Walsh has upset incumbent County Councilman Jon Weinstein in Howard County’s Democratic primary, elections officials announced Friday.
With all absentee and provisional ballots counted, Walsh beat Weinstein by two votes, according to Howard County Board of Elections Director Guy Mickley.
“I’m not sure Howard County has ever seen a race this close,” Mickley said on Friday.
Weinstein, in his first term, said he was weighing whether to ask for a recount.
If the count stands, Weinstein’s loss will mean that the next five-member County Council will be entirely new and Walsh will face Republican Raj Kathuria in the November general election for the seat that represents Ellicott City. Kathuria was unopposed in the GOP primary.
The final tally was 3,173 votes for Walsh and 3,171 for Weinstein.
The race was one of the closest in Maryland local election history, according to John Willis, former Maryland Secretary of State and executive in residence at the University of Baltimore’s School of Public and International Affairs.
Weinstein’s 41-vote lead on primary night started to shrink when absentee and provisional ballots were counted this week. By Thursday afternoon, when a count of provisional ballots was complete, his lead was four votes.
Walsh received an additional 10 votes from the last round of absentee ballots opened on Friday, while Weinstein received four, according to Mickley.
Walsh, an attorney who entered the race four months ago and had $2,011.35 in the bank by the end of the June 15 reporting period, compared to Weinstein’s $71,130.67, said on Friday she was in a “delighted shock.”
“Our methods resonated,” she said. “It was really organic ... it was [issues like] overdevelopment, crowded schools, [and] local government not responding to them the way that we deserve and desperately need.”
Weinstein has until July 9 to request a recount.
“I’m grateful for the support I’ve received,” Weinstein said in a text. “With a virtual tie and such low turnout, I’m considering a recount because I owe it to my constituents to make sure every vote is counted and confirmed.”
Mickley said the earliest the recount would occur would be on July 11 or 12, and that he hopes to complete it within one day.
Weinstein was the sole incumbent on the County Council eligible for re-election.
If a recount were to change the outcome, Walsh would be eligible to request another recount. The county elections board is responsible for the recount.
In a close race, St. Mary’s College of Maryland political scientist Todd Eberly said it would be “irresponsible” not to give the ballots another count.
“It doesn’t take much for just a normal human error to have just two votes counted in correctly,” Eberly said. “In general when you’re talking about recounts, if the folks are separated by 100 or 200 votes, which is still relatively close, recounts in general don’t change the outcome. Two votes out of 6,400, you’ve gotta just accept the possibility for some degree of error to slip in.”
In the weeks leading up to the election, development, particularly in the Ellicott City watershed in the wake of the May 27 flood, was a key issue among local candidates and at the heart of Walsh’s campaign, which she ran on an anti-development platform. Her campaign signs promoted the fact that she refused to accept donations from developers.
Joanne Drielak, a political science professor at Howard Community College, said the flood and the impact of development likely played a role in Walsh’s success.
“Walsh lives in old Ellicott City, she focused on remediation and how to prevent [flooding], land development, she really did promote those concerns,” Drielak said. “So I would have to say that may have contributed to her success.”
Looking at the November election, Drielak said she was interested to see the matchup between Walsh and fellow newcomer Kathuria, a real estate agent. District 1, she said, could be a toss-up, unlike districts 2, 3 and 4, where voters have leaned toward Democrats, or District 5, which elected the council’s lone Republican in the last election.
While the flood may have impacted Weinstein’s chances at victory, Drielak said she doesn’t believe it’s as likely to hurt County Executive Allan Kittleman’s re-election campaign. The Republican incumbent is being challenged by Democrat Calvin Ball, who has been a member of the County Council for 12 years.
“Ball is an incumbent, not a new person coming in and saying, ‘I’m going to look at this with fresh eyes,’” she said. “I don’t know if the dynamic is the same because you do have a sitting county council member.”