City speeds up tally Pica ekes out win


They sent a car out just before midnight to pick up the last tally sheet from the last precinct and as election night turned into the day after, Baltimore's Board of Election Supervisors had just about counted 100 percent of all votes cast in yesterday's general election.

The quiet, routine performance reversed the board's nightmare of delay and confusion during the Sept. 11 primary.

"We put a lot of effort into this one," said one member of the board. "We looked at [the primary] and picked off all of the weak spots."

The smooth counting of votes in the city came as an unusually close race developed in the 43rd Legislative District in Northeast Baltimore, where the incumbent Democrat, state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., won by less than 1,500 votes as his Republican challenger, James Brewster, made one of the strongest showings by a GOP candidate in the city in years.

Mr. Pica narrowly survived a challenge in the Democratic primary by a mere 44 votes from political newcomer Martin O'Malley.

No other General Assembly races were similarly close in heavily Democratic Baltimore, where it has been decades since a Republican was elected to represent the city in Annapolis.

It was clear early in the evening that city election officials had things working perfectly. By 10 p.m. -- two hours after the polls closed -- results from nearly half the precincts had been tallied, much different from primary night when it took two days for an unofficial city count.

To ensure the smooth count, election board administrator Barbara E. Jackson and her colleagues spent the last month getting ready.

They brought in a consultant and the city's computer systems chief to work out a new plan, decided to use municipal data entry clerks from various city agencies to type in results, increased the number of data clerks from eight to 20, and held a mock election vote count a week ago in which all went well.

Ms. Jackson promised up-to-the-minute results, and printouts of results were available every half-hour beginning at 9 p.m.

By midnight, she was almost 100 percent satisfied, except for the one lone precinct still not in from the Druid Hill Park area.

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