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Annapolis gears up for 2021 general election after 20% increase in primary turnout

Election officials check in voters at the Ward 3 polling place at the Mt. Olive Community Life Center. The City of Annapolis held primary elections Tuesday, September 21, 2021. Now, election officials have begun gearing up for the Nov. 2 general election. Ballots will begin landing in the mailboxes of all registered voters this week.
Election officials check in voters at the Ward 3 polling place at the Mt. Olive Community Life Center. The City of Annapolis held primary elections Tuesday, September 21, 2021. Now, election officials have begun gearing up for the Nov. 2 general election. Ballots will begin landing in the mailboxes of all registered voters this week. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

It has been three weeks since Annapolis’ first election conducted mostly by mail showed voter turnout increase by about 20%. Now, election officials have begun gearing up for the Nov. 2 general election.

The general election follows just 42 days after the Sept. 21 primary where 1,776 Democrats voted in three contested primaries in Wards 3, 4 and 8; a combined voter turnout was about 30%. That’s a 22% increase over what it was in those wards in 2017 when about 1,450 ballots were cast.

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Election officials have been pleased with the new vote-by-mail system implemented this spring out of concern for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Just under 300 people voted in person across all three primaries on Election Day as voters opted to drop off their ballots at one of eight drop boxes across the city or return them by mail.

“In my view, it went well,” Annapolis elections board chair Eileen Leahy said. “It went smoothly and the process has worked.”

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All three primary races saw voter turnout increase over 2017.

In Ward 3 where incumbent Rhonda Pindell-Charles defeated Keanuú Smith-Brown, 366 votes to 167 votes, voter turnout rose from 351 in 2017 to 534 people voted in 2021, a 52% increase. Pindell-Charles is unopposed in the general election and will likely be seated on the next council.

In Ward 8, incumbent Ross Arnett beat Kati George, 450 votes to 332 votes. About 783 voters cast ballots in in 2021 compared to 752 in 2017, a 4% increase. Arnett will face a familiar Republican foe in the general election, Rock Toews, whom he defeated in 2009.

A particularly close race in Ward 4 resulted in incumbent Sheila Finlayson defeating Toni Strong Pratt by five votes, 228 votes to 223 votes. A recount requested by Strong Pratt last week confirmed Finlayson’s victory. Finlayson is unopposed in the general election and will likely be seat on the next council.

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Ward 4′s voter turnout increased by 31%, from 347 in 2017 to 455 in 2021.

This week, 25,837 envelopes stuffed with a general election ballot will start landing in voters’ mailboxes. At the Oct. 4 voter registration deadline, there were 14,542 Democrats, 5,560 Republicans, 5,345 unaffiliated and 390 third-party members in the city, according to data from the Anne Arundel County Elections Board, which is helping the city oversee its elections.

Each ballot will have two choices for mayor, incumbent Democrat Gavin Buckley and Republican Steven Strawn, plus an option to write in a name.

Every ward will feature the names of City Council candidates and a write-in option. Four races in Ward 2, 5, 6 and 8 are contested with one Democrat and one Republican running in each. Four Democrats do not have general election opponents.

Like the primary election, each voter will have three ways to cast a general election ballot: voting in person at their respective precinct, returning the ballot by mail or to one of eight drop boxes, one of which is located at each precinct.

Ballot drop boxes have been placed throughout the city and have been unlocked to begin accepting ballots this week, Leahy said.

In 2017, about 9,500 people voted in the general election, a voter turnout of about 37%.

The three-member elections board, which features Leahy and Briayna Cuffie, both Democrats, and Rebecca Brenia, a Republican, typically holds a meeting after an election to discuss any possible issues or ways to make improvements. That meeting has not yet taken place because of a recount in Ward 4, Leahy said.

But, she said, the most obvious challenge for the upcoming general election is the quick turnaround and printing and mailing ballots to all voters on time. Those with questions or ballot issues should contact the elections board at 410-263-7929 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Other general election races

Karma O’Neill, a Democrat, and Scott Gibson, a Republican, will face off in Ward 2 to see who replaces retiring Republican Alderman Fred Paone.

In Ward 5, incumbent Democrat Brooks Schandelmeier will face Republican challenger Monica Manthey.

DaJuan Gay, a Democrat, will try to retain his Ward 6 seat against George Gallagher, a Republican. Gay defeated Gallagher as a write-in candidate in a 2019 special election.

Elly Tierney, in Ward 1, and Rob Savidge, in Ward 7, do not have general election opponents and will be seated on the next council.

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