Baltimore elections authorities expect to have final results Friday in what has become a closely watched vote count, with some campaigns holding out hope that the last few ballots could swing last week's primary in their favor.
The Baltimore City Board of Elections began counting about 7,600 provisional ballots Wednesday and will finish the rest of those and any outstanding absentee ballots when it reconvenes at 10 a.m. Friday, elections director Armstead B.C. Jones Sr. said.
In the race to become the Democratic nominee for mayor, Sheila Dixon — who was widely thought to have conceded but said this week that she hadn't —trails state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh by about 2,500 votes.
The approximately 3,300 provisional ballots counted Wednesday helped Dixon narrow the gap. But it's not clear how many ballots are outstanding because some provisionals will be rejected by officials and absentee ballots can be received up until Friday morning. Pugh's camp is confident she will remain ahead.
Jones said an unofficial final tally will be available Friday, but the state might not formally certify the results until Monday.
Certification will start a three-day clock for a campaign to request a recount and triggers a seven-day deadline for anyone to challenge the results in court.
Dixon, who watched the count Wednesday at city elections headquarters, has said she's considering her legal options and is frustrated by what she called irregularities on the day of the primary.
Dixon, a former mayor, has also alleged that Pugh's campaign improperly marshaled voters to polling places during early voting. Pugh has rejected the allegation and defended her effort to recruit job applicants and provide rides to the polls.
A group of activists aligned with Dixon say voters have told them of widespread problems at Baltimore's polls on primary day, and they have asked the Office of the State Prosecutor to launch an investigation.
Jones said he was aware of the allegations being leveled by the group — which calls itself Voters Organized for the Integrity of City Elections, or VOICE — but that the board had not received any complaints from voters.
At a meeting Thursday evening at Sharon Baptist Church — to which the activists invited voters who had problems casting their ballots — attorney J. Wyndal Gordon asked people to raise their hands if they had difficulty voting in the election. "We want to hear about that," he said.
Four of the two dozen people in the church did so. The crowd eventually swelled to about 50.
Donna Jenkins, 42, said her polling place, Windsor Mill Middle School, opened late. She waited about an hour before she could vote, she said.
Amelia Mitchell, 59, said she didn't know about the new voting system, which uses paper ballots to keep a record of how votes were cast. She doesn't know whether her ballot was recorded properly and blames the election judges for not offering more help.
"That's their job," she said.
Gordon asked people who had problems to fill out affidavits that could be used if the activists decide to take legal action. As the meeting in the church continued, a few people sat at a side table filling out the papers.