Recount underway in Baltimore County executive primary race

Baltimore County election officials began the task Thursday of recounting more than 87,000 paper ballots in the Democratic primary for county executive — a contest Johnny Olszewski Jr. won by just nine votes.

The extensive recount was requested by second-place finisher Jim Brochin, who has said that with a margin so small — less than 0.1 percent — he felt it was necessary to request that the ballots be recounted.

The overall count moved more quickly than expected after the first day, as officials recounted 40 percent of the results. Still, it could be days before a winner in the June 26 primary will be determined. So far, the candidate tallies remained largely unchanged.

The process began just after 9 a.m. Thursday, with officials set up at 18 tables in a Hunt Valley warehouse. Teams of three made their way through the ballots in batches of 50, with two officials reviewing the ballots and a third tallying the counts.

Tape was placed along each table to mark areas where officials placed the ballots for each of the four candidates in the Democratic executive race: Brochin, Olszewski, third-place finisher Vicki Almond and fourth-place finisher Kevin Marron.

The teams worked quietly as observers from the Brochin and Olszewski campaigns stood over the tables, watching carefully.

Neither Olszewski nor Brochin was present at the recount.

“I think the board’s doing a tremendous job,” said Tucker Cavanagh, Olszewski’s campaign manager. “They’ve made every effort to be transparent. They've worked incredibly diligently and they’ve just been a joy to work with.”

Cavanagh said he hoped Olszewski would maintain at least the nine-vote margin that led him to be declared the winner after the initial count of early voting, Election Day voting and absentee and provisional ballots. The election results were certified on Tuesday.

But of course Tim Hodge, Brochin’s attorney, was hoping the opposite, that enough votes might shift to change the outcome.

“We’re just here to monitor and oversee to make sure that every vote counts and is counted accurately,” Hodge said.

During the recount campaign observers are allowed to challenge individual ballots, sending questioned ballots to the county’s Board of Elections for a ruling. The board also would make the final call on “over votes” — the term used when a voter has made marks on the ballot for more than one candidate.

There were 93 over votes counted during the election, and ballot scanners recorded them as no votes — meaning no candidate gets credit for them. As officials reviewed them, some have been turned into votes for candidates.

By the time recount paused for the day after 6 p.m., officials had reviewed some 35,000 votes. Olszewski picked up three votes to Brochin’s two, leaving Brochin 10 behind so far. Almond picked up three votes. Most of the changes came from rulings in the over votes.

“There is not a lot of movement at all,” Cavanagh said.

For Brochin’s camp, Hodge said he disagreed with election board members on many of the decisions that turned over votes into votes for a specific candidate. He said it’s too difficult to determine a voter’s intention when there are marks next to more than one candidate — especially when voters filled in ovals for two candidates but also made an X or check mark over one of the ovals.

“It’s Baltimore County’s version of the hanging chad we have going today,” Hodge said, referencing the 2000 presidential election in Florida in which elections officials had to determine voter intent on whether punch holes were made in ballots.

County elections director Katie Brown said that her team had identified two other errors during the election.

During early voting, the Randallstown Community Center site may scanned one ballot twice, she said, as the hand count of the paper ballots was one less than the scanner’s count, and elections officials noted that one voter on the seventh day had trouble with the scanner.

The voting site at precinct 03-08, Summit Park Elementary School cafeteria in Pikesville, also had an issue, Brown said: The hand count of ballots was one more than the scanner’s count.

As officials completed the recount for each precinct, they used a projector to display the results on a wall at the elections office in Hunt Valley. The first precinct that was finished with a recount — the early voting site at the Jacksonville Recreation Center — showed no changes to the results.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican nominee Al Redmer Jr. in the general election in November.

A recount in Howard County on Wednesday affirmed the result in a close Democratic primary for the County Council. Challenger Liz Walsh saw her margin of victory over incumbent Jon Weinstein grow from two votes to six.

Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.

pwood@baltsun.com

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