Following the first of two canvasses from three Annapolis primary elections completed Wednesday, two City Council incumbents extended their leads and a third race narrowed to within 13 votes, unofficial election results showed.
Between the 297 in-person ballots counted after polls closed Tuesday and the first batch of 414 mailed ballots received by the Friday before Election Day, Rhonda Pindell-Charles now leads Keanuú Smith-Brown, 156 votes to 60 votes, in Ward 3 with about 46% of votes counted. Ross Arnett leads Kati George, 179 votes to 113 votes, with 40% of the vote counted.
In Ward 4, Toni Strong Pratt leads incumbent Sheila Finlayson, 107 votes to 94 votes, with 49% of votes counted.
At least another 894 ballots that were returned on Election Day or after, plus a handful of provisional ballots, will be counted at a second canvass Tuesday. That total could rise slightly as additional ballots postmarked on or before Sept. 21 continue to trickle in.
In a large, spacious room at the Anne Arundel County Election Board headquarters in Glen Burnie, five pairs of election workers spent about an hour and 15 minutes methodically tearing open ballot envelopes, either collected from one of eight drop boxes throughout the city or returned to a county elections board P.O. Box.
Strong Pratt, Finlayson and Smith-Brown sat around the room watching as teams of election teams worked their way through folders containing stacks of 25 ballot envelopes. Workers checked that each ballot inside was completed properly. If an issue with any ballot was discovered, such as a tear, they were referred to the Annapolis Board of Supervisors of Elections for review.
“I’m feeling good. The trend is in my favor,” said Finlayson who saw her deficit shrink from 37 votes to 13 votes Wednesday.
Strong Pratt said she was still confident that the majority of the remaining 200 or so votes left to count in Ward 4 would be cast in her favor.
Former Ward 6 Alderwoman Cynthia Carter was also in attendance to show support for Strong Pratt. Carter also watched the canvass in 2017 when Strong Pratt came within 17 votes of defeating Finlayson; she hoped for a different result this time around, she said.
“She’s deserving,” Carter said of Strong Pratt. “We also need change. She is in the community; she’s about the community; she is the community.”
Other than four ballots flagged for having tears, no other problems arose during the canvass, said Elections Board Chair Eileen Leahy.
A flagged ballot is reviewed by the board and if it’s confirmed to be a valid vote, is copied to a fresh ballot and counted.
Arnett and George both expressed optimism ahead of Tuesday’s canvass; for Arnett that his lead would hold with at least 423 votes left to count and George that she could make up her current deficit.
“We remain very optimistic,” she said. “I think we can easily make up 66 and then some.”
After the Annapolis elections board approved a vote-by-mail option this spring in response to public health concerns around the coronavirus pandemic, voters took full advantage of the new system.
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About 1,300 people returned ballots to drop boxes across the city or by mail as of Tuesday.
As polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Annapolis’s first-ever election held mostly by mail, unofficial election data showed a total of 297 votes cast in-person: 98 votes were cast in Ward 3, 132 votes were cast in Ward 4 and 67 votes were cast in Ward 8.
The combined voter turnout of about 1,600 has surpassed the roughly 1,300 ballots cast in the three wards in the 2017 primary election.
Smith-Brown who now trails Pindell-Charles by 96 votes with about 250 left to count, said he was trusting in his faith throughout the election process and beyond, no matter the result.
“As long as (God’s) plan is in place that’s good enough for me. And beyond this race too,” he said.
As for Pindell-Charles, she remains “cautiously optimistic.”
But she added, “I will wait until the certification on Tuesday.”