As polls closed Tuesday in Annapolis’s first-ever mail-in election, voter turnout in three contested Democratic primaries surpassed the number of ballots cast in those wards in 2017. However, the six candidates hoping to claim City Council seats likely won’t know if they won until Wednesday when canvassing for mail-in ballots begins.
Preliminary results for the contested primaries in Ward 3, Ward 4 and Ward 8 showed two incumbents and one challenger taking early leads.
In Ward 3, incumbent Rhonda Pindell-Charles leads Keanuú Smith-Brown 70 votes to 28 votes. In Ward 8, Ross Arnett leads Kati George 42 votes to 25 votes. Toni Strong Pratt leads Ward 4 incumbent Sheila Finlayson, 84 votes to 47 votes.
Canvassing of 414 mailed ballots received before Election Day will begin Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections in Glen Burnie, said David Garreis, deputy director of the Anne Arundel County Elections board.
Of those, 119 are from Ward 3, 70 are from Ward 4, and 225 are from Ward 8.
A second canvass will take place on Sept. 28 to count the 10 provisional ballots and 882 mailed ballots returned on Election Day, plus any additional ballots that arrive by mail before the canvass begins.
As a result, it’s possible winners could be decided Wednesday or, if a race is especially close, at the second canvass.
At 8 p.m. when polls closed, unofficial election data showed 297 people had voted in person: 98 votes in Ward 3, 132 votes in Ward 4, 67 votes in Ward 8. Another 1,296 people either returned their ballot to a dropbox or by mail, election results showed.
At least 1,576 votes were cast in all, surpassing the 1,383 Democratic voters who voted in Wards 3, 4 and 8 in the 2017 primary election.
Voters in Ward 3 trickled into Mt. Olive Community Life Center Tuesday morning to cast ballots for either Pindell-Charles, a two-term incumbent, or Smith-Brown, an elementary school teacher with nearly a decade of experience in Maryland politics. There are about 1,850 Democrats in the Parole-based ward.
Pindell-Charles waved to neighbors pulling into the church to vote, most of whom she knew by name.
“You got this!” a woman called from her car window to Pindell-Charles, adding that her son asked if she was voting for “King Jones’ grandmother,” referring to Pindell-Charles’s grandson.
Stationed down the road, Smith-Brown carried election signs with his sister Sidonie Brown. The 26-year-old former president of the District 30 Democratic Club acknowledged voters had turned out for Pindell-Charles in support of family ties or church connections, but many people were willing to listen to his ideas and vision.
“My focus is on people and getting out the vote,” Smith-Brown said. “I hope to get my voice and face in the ears and eyes of others.”
Around 11:30 a.m., election officials at the Ward 3 precinct filed an incident report to the elections board after Smith-Brown and an election judge got into a disagreement over a rule about candidates receiving lists of voters who have already cast ballots.
The incident got “really heated” with Smith-Brown raising his voice so loudly that workers inside the precinct could hear, said Election Judge Randall Pitt, who added that he had never experienced a candidate act that way.
Smith-Brown had a different view saying he was only asking for clarification about the rule and dismissed the disagreement as “drama.”
It is the first time in Annapolis’ near 400-year history the is city administering an election mostly held by mail. Election officials made four sweeps Tuesday of the eight dropboxes scattered throughout the city.
Mary Lloyd, a Ward 3 resident since 1978, came out to vote Tuesday morning to celebrate a process performed in person after the coronavirus pandemic has halted gatherings for many months. Lloyd credited Pindell-Charles’ attentiveness for winning her vote.
”She’s very involved, very educated and a very personal person. If you give her a call, it doesn’t matter morning or night, she will send an email and respond,” Lloyd said.
The Ward 4 primary is a rematch from 2017 between four-term incumbent Finlayson and Strong Pratt, a community advocate and organizer.
On Tuesday, the candidates were perched in camping chairs under canopies at the entrance to American Legion #141 along Forest Drive, waving signs to encourage voters to cast a ballot.
Finlayson, decked out in a white and red outfit sporting a pair of red Chuck Taylors and a white hat emblazoned with “SHEILA,” was first in line to vote when polls opened, she said.
She said she felt confident after campaigning hard over the last few months.
“We’ve worked hard and touched everyone many times” through mailers, robocalls and door-knocking, Finlayson said of the roughly 1,900 registered Democrats in Ward 4. “I’m hoping people get inspired and feel the need to exercise their right (to vote).”
Strong Pratt sat a few steps away with her campaign team as food cooked on a small charcoal grill. After coming up just 17 votes short against Finlayson in the 2017 primary, she said she was proud of her campaign strategy of making deep personal connections with every potential voter she came across and hoped it will be enough to get her across the finish line.
“It’s in the people’s hands now,” she said.
Alethia Reed, a resident of Spa Road, said she voted for Strong Pratt because the candidate promised to be more involved in the community and had seen less outreach from Finlayson.
Beulah Buress voted for Finlayson because “she seems like the person who is getting things done,” she said. But, she added, the incumbent Democrat has to continue improving the ward to keep her support.
“I do not give my vote lightly,” Buress said. “Another election comes up, you might not get it.”
Ward 8′s primary sees Arnett, a four-term incumbent, take on George, a financial services consultant and member of the Annapolis Audit Committee. Whoever wins the primary will face Republican Rock Toews in the general election Nov. 2.
Throughout the day, Arnett and George waved signs along Bay Ridge Avenue in front of the Eastport Volunteer Fire Department voting precinct.
George said the honking horns and thumbs up gave her hope that her campaign had resonated with potential voters.
“I woke up feeling optimistic,” she said.
Arnett, who spent time calling some of the 1,980 registered Democrats in Ward 8 between sign-waving sessions, said he had never worked harder on a campaign.
“Elections are the ultimate in term limits. That’s when people get to say yes or no,” he said. “I will continue to fight hard. I am proud of my campaign and my campaign team. I hope for the best but people will make their own decisions.”
The winner of each primary will become their party’s candidate in the general election. There are no Republican candidates in Ward 3 and Ward 4, so barring an upset from a third-party or write-in candidate, the winners in those wards will be seated on the City Council in December.
Phyllis “Tee” Adams dropped off her mailed ballot in Ward 8 around midday. The CEO of an Annapolis lighting company and the organizer of the inaugural Juneteenth celebration, Adams said she voted for Arnett because she was concerned about donations from developers that George had received.
“I know they say they will do what’s right for the community but when you have people lining their pockets, that’s a concern,” she said.
As for Arnett, “he’s seasoned. That means a lot to me,” Adams said. “(Experienced candidates) know how to maneuver through the twists and turns, to have that experience, to get what we want.”