Democrat Parris N. Glendening apparently clinched the Maryland governor's race yesterday, though his razor-thin lead may have to withstand a legal challenge from his Republican opponent, Ellen R. Sauerbrey.
After six days of absentee ballot counting across the state and some review of the votes cast last Tuesday, Mr. Glendening led Mrs. Sauerbrey by 5,366 votes out of more than 1.4 million cast.
Even if Mrs. Sauerbrey were to take all of the still uncounted absentee ballots -- about 2,500 statewide, including nearly 1,300 in Baltimore County -- she could not overtake Mr. Glendening unless she were successful in getting thousands of votes thrown out.
The margin was big enough for Mr. Glendening to declare victory yesterday, and to say he intends to announce his transition plans later this week.
"I am pleased I will be the next governor of Maryland, and I'm very pleased that Kathleen Kennedy Townsend will be the next lieutenant governor," he said at a Hyattsville news conference with Mrs. Townsend at his side.
"I can say with a bit of modesty I will be a very good governor. I will be strong. I will place an emphasis on consensus building and inclusion, but make the hard decisions that must be made. We will be fiscally responsible, and we will do that with compassion and vision as well."
Mrs. Sauerbrey refused to yield. Instead, she announced the formation of a committee under the auspices of the Maryland Republican Party that will raise money to investigate alleged voting "irregularities" in the governor's contest.
"I have no intention of conceding," she said at her Cockeysville campaign headquarters, which now will serve as headquarters for the GOP election inquiry.
Mrs. Sauerbrey named Charles E. "Ted" Peck, the retired chief executive officer of the Ryland Group, to head a fund-raising effort. She said her election campaign, which by law cannot spend more than the $1 million it received in public financing, had ceased to exist. She has begun paying the day-to-day expenses of her office out of her own pocket, she said.
As she has for the past week, Mrs. Sauerbrey offered little detail about what she has said are complaints of voting irregularities and possible fraud. Her campaign has said specific cases, if documented, would be withheld until needed in a possible court effort to overturn the election results.
Her troops, however, went to Circuit Court in Baltimore yesterday to demand immediate access to extensive voting records from seven city precincts carried overwhelmingly by Mr. Glendening.
A judge ruled the Sauerbrey request campaign would have to wait until next week, when city election officials have finished certifying the results.
"If she elects to bring a legal challenge, for whatever reason, she can do so," Mr. Glendening said.
"That's one of the great things about America: Anyone can sue, no matter how frivolous their thoughts may be.
"But as a practical matter, for the well-being of the state, I think we ought to bring the state together and move ahead," he said.
Gene M. Raynor, state administrator of elections, said that if things go smoothly -- and not much has this year -- he could have all the locally certified election results in hand by next Tuesday.
The deadline for the state's 24 local boards of election to stop accepting absentee ballots cast overseas is 4 p.m. Friday.
All this week, those boards are supposed to conduct an official canvass of the balloting -- a formal comparison of vote totals from machine, computer and paper ballots against the unofficial returns compiled Election Day.
Once Mr. Raynor has received the double-checked results from each board, he is to present them to the state Board of Canvassers -- consisting of the secretary of state, comptroller, attorney general, state treasurer and clerk of the Court of Appeals -- Dec. 7 for final, state certification of the results.
In Baltimore, the local review of the more than 148,000 ballots cast Tuesday was completed last night. City election board officials found an additional 2,294 votes for Mr. Glendening and another 305 for Mrs. Sauerbrey, a result that added to Mr. Glendening's overall lead statewide.
Count not verified
The city board has not completed nor verified its count of more than 3,400 absentee ballots.
Mr. Glendening made it clear he believes the election is finally over.
"The voters have spoken," he said. "There is a majority for me. No matter what happens with the remainder of Baltimore County, we have a majority of the vote."
He said he did not think the final margin of victory -- a fraction of a percentage point -- "makes any difference whatsoever." Nevertheless, he conceded his task will be to strike a balance between his own program to enhance essential government services and Mrs. Sauerbrey's provocative plans to cut taxes and scale back government.
"The issues were very clear: Whether or not we were going to invest in jobs, public safety and good schools, as well as the issue of whether we were going to run a fiscally responsible government that holds the line on taxes and reduces taxes where possible," he said.
"We understand the message . . . coming from 100 percent of the voters, in that sense. It is my responsibility -- as it would have been hers had she won another 7,000 votes -- to balance both. That's what leadership is about."
Mr. Glendening put his apparent narrow victory in the best possible light, noting that he won in a year when many big-name Democrats lost.
Survived the 'tide'
"We survived a national tide. We're one of the few Democrats who won, one of the few Democratic candidates for governor who won, and one of the very few nonincumbents to win," he said.
He said he had no second thoughts about how he ran his own campaign and, when asked to evaluate Mrs. Sauerbrey's, offered a two-word reply: "Good timing."
While Mr. Glendening was moving toward a transition, Mrs. Sauerbrey was still searching for some legal way to stop him. She said her supporters will meet Friday to "decide whether we want to challenge the election."
Both camps have challenged thousands of absentee ballots. Though now included in the total count, those ballots have been kept physically separate at local election boards in case either side should persuade a court to throw them out.
Mrs. Sauerbrey also could offer to a court any evidence she has of voter fraud, for which she could ask a court to throw out specific votes or perhaps overturn the entire election.
Mr. Glendening seemed unperturbed, saying with confidence, "The courts are extremely reluctant anywhere in this country to overturn the decision of the people."
After reporters pressed Mrs. Sauerbrey for details of the the GOP's allegations of voting irregularities, she offered some information about one.
She said there were reports that the cards voters are required to sign at the polls were being circulated on the streets in some areas of Baltimore. The implication is that some voters who never showed up at the polls were allowed to sign the cards, and someone illegally cast their ballots for them.
"We don't know if this is true or not," she conceded.
Lever trouble claimed
Carol L. Hirschburg, Mrs. Sauerbrey's campaign spokeswoman, offered another example. She said a "very credible source," whom she declined to name, tried to vote for Mrs. Sauerbrey at a Baltimore precinct but found that the lever for Mrs. Sauerbrey popped back up before she finished voting.
According to Ms. Hirschburg, the source said that an election judge told her to vote the rest of the ballot "and then pull it [the Sauerbrey lever] and it will stay down." Other voters who used the machine and tried to vote for Mrs. Sauerbrey, Ms. Hirschburg said, would probably not have realized if their votes were not being recorded.
Mr. Raynor, the state elections administrator, said he had not received any reports of voter cards circulating outside polling places. And he noted that every lever on every machine is tested before the polls open Election Day.
"I never heard of that in my years of experience with the automatic voting machine used in Baltimore City," he said. "I've never seen a machine where you pull a lever down and it pops back up."
Mrs. Sauerbrey insisted that her effort to raise money for the GOP investigation would not fall under her campaign's $1 million spending cap. But Jack Schwartz, an election law specialist with the state attorney general's office, declined to comment.
Asked if she thought her challenge of the balloting would harm her if she were to choose to run again, Mrs. Sauerbrey said: "I am not worried about political damage to me personally. I am worried that we have a fair and honest outcome to the election."
Mr. Glendening said one lesson of this close election is that the process of counting absentee ballots needs to be revised and speeded up.
Although he gushed praise for the performance of state and local election officials this past week, he said as governor he intends to appoint a bipartisan commission to study current absentee ballot procedures and recommend changes.
"I would look for a process that would put the importance of the voter first, that the vote ought to be sacred, and there ought to be a presumption that that vote was cast and meant to be counted," he said.
When Baltimore County election officials closed up shop yesterday at 5 p.m., Mrs. Sauerbrey held the lead there in absentee ballots, 3,392 to 2,081. The remaining 1,292 absentee ballots were being counted today.