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Sheila Dixon won't seek a recount of Baltimore primary election results

Former Mayor Sheila Dixon says she won't seek a recount of April's primary.

Former Mayor Sheila Dixon did not seek a recount in April's primary election, but her mayoral campaign did not rule out filing a legal challenge by Wednesday's deadline.

Dixon said Tuesday she would continue to press for answers over election irregularities that marred the April 26 primary.

Officials said no other candidates requested a recount in closely watched City Council races, some of which were decided by just dozens of votes. Campaigns had until Tuesday to request a recount.

"While the city Board of Elections has re-certified the election results and I have decided not to seek a recount, the questions surrounding this election must be answered," Dixon said in a statement. "The irregularities in this election are not acceptable. This process is not over until we can assure every Baltimore citizen that their vote will be counted, not just in this election, but in future elections as well."

Dixon's spokeswoman, Martha McKenna, said the former mayor has not decided whether to ask a judge to intervene. A group of concerned voters has said it plans to petition the court for a new election.

A review by the state election board found that about 1,700 ballots cast in Baltimore's primary election were handled improperly. The board concluded that 1,188 provisional ballots were inappropriately scanned into the vote tally on Election Day — without judges verifying that the voters were eligible — and 555 other provisional ballots were not considered.

"We will continue to demand answers," Dixon said.

State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh was declared the winner of the Democratic primary for mayor, getting about 2,400 more votes than Dixon. More than 130,000 Democrats voted in the primary.

Pugh said Tuesday that she continues to be focused on November's general election, when she will face Republican nominee Alan Walden and Green Party challenger Joshua Harris.

City Council members James B. Kraft and Mary Pat Clarke decried the administration of the election during a budget hearing Tuesday, to which city elections director Armstead B.C. Jones Sr. was called to discuss the problems.

"It's embarrassing for us. It's embarrassing for the city of Baltimore," Kraft said of the irregularities. "We want to solve this problem."

Clarke called the election a "disaster" and called for city and state elections officials to testify further before the council.

Jones blamed problems on 365 election judges who failed to show up to work.

"You had judges who were trained who didn't show up on Election Day who caused these problems," Jones said.

He also said city judges and voters weren't familiar with the switch from touch screens to paper balloting, new this year.

"You had judges who weren't familiar, and you had voters who weren't familiar," Jones said.

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young asked if the city should impose a penalty on election judges who failed to show for work.

"We hire 2,000 people to do a one-day job that can make or break an election," Jones said. "We can't control who doesn't show up."

Young said he believed Jones did a "pretty good job" and the problems with the election were overblown by the news media.

John T. Willis, a former Maryland secretary of state who has studied state elections, told The Baltimore Sun in an interview Tuesday that large urban jurisdictions across the country have had problems after changing election systems.

He cited a variety of problems in Phoenix, New York and Jackson, Miss., that occurred when voting procedures were changed.

That is compounded by the high turnout in the election, Willis said. Including Republicans, more than 140,000 people voted in April's primary.

"It's not unusual when you have a system change that you're going to have implementation problems," said Willis, a University of Baltimore professor. "We've seen that. It's not surprising. System changes require more voter education and resources."

Baltimore's election results have been "very accurate" over the last decade since the state introduced an all-electronic touch-screen voting system in 2006, Willis said. A series of problems that year caused the city's then-elections director, Gene M. Raynor, to quit in frustration.

Willis said Dixon's decision not to seek a recount makes sense because "the burden is heavy" on the challenger, who would have to post a bond toward covering the cost of a recount.

The money would be refunded if the recount led to a changed result, or if the margin of difference was significantly narrowed. The cost of a recount varies based on its extent.

"At some point, elections end," Willis said, adding that the number of votes that separate Dixon and Pugh make a recount "probably economically not a wise thing to do given the expense that's involved."

State officials said Tuesday that any court challenge must be filed by Wednesday, seven days after the city re-certified the election. Activists and campaigns widely believed they had until June 6 — seven business days, not calendar days — to file a court challenge.

A challenge would have to show either that the way that the election was held violated the law or that irregularities could have changed the result of a race, officials have said.

Hassan Giordano, a Dixon campaign volunteer and member of the group Voters Organized for the Integrity of City Elections, said concerned residents have been working with lawyers on a formal complaint.

"We're hoping a judge sees what all of the voters in the city see — that there was a very big problem," Giordano said Tuesday.

The group raised $2,500 to cover the cost to file a lawsuit, make copies and issue subpoenas. Giordano said the activists expect a court challenge to cost at least $20,000. They expect to launch a fundraising drive to cover the expense.

Dixon called on residents to "remain vigilant in demanding accountability and fairness in the election process." She pointed to the problems uncovered as a result of the scrutiny that has followed the election, as well as additional votes that have since been counted.

The new totals did not change the outcome of any race.

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