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Toni Strong Pratt launches Ward 4 write-in campaign after narrow primary defeat

Toni Strong Pratt, center, running to unseat Ward 4 Alderwoman Shiela Finlayson in the democratic primary, campaigns at the American Legion Post #141 polling place in September. After losing the primary by five votes, Strong Pratt has launched a write-in campaign against Finlayson in the Nov. 2 general election.
Toni Strong Pratt, center, running to unseat Ward 4 Alderwoman Shiela Finlayson in the democratic primary, campaigns at the American Legion Post #141 polling place in September. After losing the primary by five votes, Strong Pratt has launched a write-in campaign against Finlayson in the Nov. 2 general election. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

Toni Strong Pratt, a Ward 4 Democratic candidate who was narrowly defeated in last month’s primary has launched a write-in campaign for the general election.

Strong Pratt lost to the incumbent Sheila Finlayson by five votes. The result was upheld following a recount requested by Strong Pratt in early October.

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After receiving an outpouring of encouragement from friends and supporters, Strong Pratt said she decided to file to be a write-in candidate in Ward 4.

“I didn’t get in just to quit,” Strong Pratt said Tuesday, one week before polls open on Nov. 2. “I can’t just sit back and do nothing because people who aren’t getting their needs met; they need to have a voice also.”

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Strong Pratt also lost a close primary to Finlayson in 2017 by 17 votes.

Following that election, Cynthia Carter, a former Ward 6 alderwoman and one of Strong Pratt’s supporters, launched an unofficial write-in campaign that Strong Pratt was not involved in. Strong Pratt later filed to be a write-in candidate. Finlayson prevailed in the general election.

Strong Pratt has been critical of the Annapolis Election Board and city staff for how the primary and recount were conducted.

On Thursday, Strong Pratt and a group of about a dozen supporters attended an in-person elections board meeting to express what they viewed as a double standard in how candidates were treated during the primary.

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“This process is unfair and you know it,” said Strong Pratt as she stood before the board on Thursday and pointed to several examples throughout the campaign that they saw incumbents being treated differently than challengers.

For example, Strong Pratt said her campaign received an email from the city last month after a tornado touched down in the Parole area warning them that handing out gift cards to residents could be perceived as buying votes. The gift cards were provided by churches, Strong Pratt said.

Strong Pratt has also alleged that another candidate was giving out gifts to tornado victims.

In another instance, Strong Pratt said flyers for a campaign event in Bywater attended by Finlayson and Mayor Gavin Buckley did not have the proper authority line visible. Elections officials say the event was not an official campaign event and was exempt from the rule.

Strong Pratt also complained that city staff wasn’t familiar with the details of how a recount was conducted.

Finlayson, who briefly attended the elections board meeting said her opponent accused the board of “nefarious things. It’s very unfair. They are volunteers. I appreciate their work. I trust their work.”

The three-member board, made up of one Republican and two Democrats, are appointed by the mayor and City Council and work for free.

Elections Board Chair Eileen Leahy said it is untrue that candidates are treated differently. She said the board tries to address and respond to every comment or complaint. And when reminders are sent out about campaign signs, authority lines or appearances, all candidates are notified at the same time.

“We really try to treat everybody the same,” she said. “We’re certainly not targeting anybody.”

Polls will be open on Nov. 2 at the Ward 4 precinct at the American Legion Post #141 at 1707 Forest Dr. from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voters may also return completed ballots they received in the mail on or before Election Day or return the ballot by mail so long as its postmarked by Nov. 2.

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