Kweisi Mfume wins Maryland’s 7th Congressional District seat long held by the late Elijah Cummings and previously held by Mfume.
The votes have been cast, the ballots dropped and the postmarks stamped. So, what’s next in the special election for the newest member of Congress from the 7th District?
Maryland conducted its first election primarily by mail in the 7th District race, due to the coronavirus outbreak. The nearly 500,000 eligible registered voters in the district were mailed ballots and had the option to return them via mail, place them in drop boxes or vote in person.
The race pitted Democrat Kweisi Mfume against Republican Kimberly Klacik to fill the seat of Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, who died in October.
Mfume had a substantial lead over his Republican rival — 73% to 27% — from the moment the first returns were released just after the polls closed Tuesday night, and claimed victory in a late-night speech at his campaign headquarters.
While an unknown number of ballots remain outstanding, Democrats hold a 4-1 voter registration advantage in the district — one of the most Democratic in the state — and Klacik was not attracting enough crossover support to keep pace.
The counting continues
Because the election was conducted by mail, the remaining ballots will take much longer to count than those tallied on a normal Election Day.
As completed ballots have arrived by mail, elections workers have stored them under the date they were received, “quarantining” the papers for at least 24 hours as a precaution during the outbreak. The same was done with the ballots cast Tuesday by mail, in drop boxes or at in-person voting centers.
State elections officials have been releasing additional results on at least a daily basis. By Friday, Mfume led Klacik 74% to 26% with more than 130,000 ballots counted.
As of Friday, more than 144,000 vote-by-mail ballots had been received, elections officials reported. They must have been postmarked no later than April 28 to be counted.
Ballots are typically counted until the second Friday after an election. That’s May 8, in this case. That’s the earliest day under state law that local boards can certify the results, said Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator for the state Board of Elections. Mfume cannot be sworn in until the results are certified.
Klacik tweeted Thursday that she “grew up believing every vote counts," and will not concede until the counting is complete.
“Kweisi Mfume ran his race with integrity, not a single cheap shot, much respect,” Klacik wrote.
Due to the pandemic, voters were strongly encouraged to vote by mail, and turnout figures reported Tuesday showed they, for the most part, complied.
When the polls closed at 8 p.m., just over 1,000 voters had cast their ballots at the in-person voting centers, which officials emphasized were for those who were unable to vote via mail or who never received a ballot.
Ballots still working their way through the postal service have until May 8 to arrive and be counted, Charlson said. Ballots will be discarded if they were not postmarked by April 28 or if they are not signed.
Maryland’s primary, originally slated to be held April 28 alongside the special general election, was postponed until June 2 due to the coronavirus outbreak. Because public health concerns remain from the virus, that election, too, will be held primarily by mail.
To make that happen, ballots were scheduled to be mailed to most of the state’s 4 million registered eligible voters last week. Maryland’s mail vendor in Minnesota was expected to release most of the ballots on May 1, making them likely to arrive in mailboxes about five days later.
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The primary includes nominations for the state’s eight U.S. House seats. In Baltimore, citizens will nominate candidates for mayor, City Council president, council seats and city comptroller. The primary is also for U.S. president, although former Vice President Joe Biden is the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee to challenge Republican President Donald Trump.
The nearly 500,000 voters in the 7th Congressional District will get a brief reprieve from election mail. Their ballots are due to be mailed May 8. While voters in the 7th District just voted in Cummings’ replacement, they will have to vote again in the primary to choose nominees for a full term.
Election officials will have a short window to assess what they’ve learned from the 7th District general election and apply it to the June 2 primary. One issue that cropped up was that voters who requested absentee ballots for the special election did not initially receive mail-in ballots. An audit caught the mistake, and ballots were later mailed to those voters. Some reported receiving them in time for the election, while others did not.