Partial in-person returns made public Wednesday in the Democratic mayoral primary in Baltimore showed former Mayor Sheila Dixon’s lead holding at about 30%.
The state elections board released about 75,000 votes late Tuesday, counted from ballots that voters mailed in and dropped off before primary day. Those initial returns showed Dixon leading the crowded pack, followed by City Council President Brandon Scott with 24% and former U.S. Treasury official Mary Miller with 17%.
The release of about 3,800 returns Wednesday morning from ballots cast at six in-person voting centers did little to reshape the field.
The city elections board said turnout Tuesday was roughly 6,200 voters. Still unknown are the results of ballots postmarked Tuesday or deposited in official drop boxes on primary day. It’s unknown how many remain outstanding as the state sent ballots to all eligible, registered voters to reduce the amount of in-person voting due to the coronavirus pandemic, though some people reported that they did not receive one in the mail.
About 133,000 people voted in the 2016 Democratic primary.
The initial release of in-person returns showed Dixon’s strength extending into primary day, with her receiving at least another 1,356 votes.
Scott took 1,168 votes, while Miller trailed so far in in-person returns with 319. The returns show 364 people came to the polls to vote for former state Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah, who lagged in fourth place with about 12% of all votes counted so far. Incumbent Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young had 7%, while former Baltimore Police spokesman T.J. Smith remained at 6%.
The first round of numbers, based on ballots mailed in and dropped off before primary day, were posted on the state elections board site Tuesday night after the polls closed. But they were removed around 2 a.m. and the state instead marked fields with “NR” for “Not Reported.” The data returned a little before 11 a.m., accompanied by the initial batch of votes cast in person Tuesday.
Candidates questioned discrepancies in the process as they waited on results, which are scheduled to be certified by June 12.
The state elections board also announced Wednesday morning that an error on ballots mailed to voters in City Council District 1 led to inaccurate returns.
“I remain frustrated by the administrative challenges we’ve seen in this election and am calling for a transparent process moving forward,” Scott said in a statement. “I’m concerned by the many Baltimoreans who report never receiving a ballot, some of whom were told they could not vote when they arrived at an in-person polling site. I’m also concerned that results were reported and then later removed with no explanation.”
An attorney representing his campaign sent a letter to two of the state’s assistant attorneys general Wednesday morning demanding answers on the irregularities. He added that it was unacceptable for campaigns to only be allowed to oversee canvassing via a livestream.
“Under these circumstances, we respectfully ask that the canvass be immediately suspended unless and until we received answers to these questions and a meaningful opportunity to observe the canvass,” Attorney Andrew Levy wrote. “We would appreciate a prompt response to avoid the need to seek court intervention.”
Miller’s campaign released a statement Wednesday morning saying it was waiting to hear more amid the revelations of irregularities.
“While these are not the results we hoped, these preliminary results are just that, with perhaps a third of ballots not counted,” the statement read.
Those trailing struck a somewhat resigned tone. Young, in office for about a year, released a statement that seemed to acknowledge it was unlikely he’d get to keep his job. “If the results do not go my way,” he said, "I pledge to work alongside and help the next mayor and foster a smooth transition of power.”
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Vignarajah said that while there are many votes to be counted, "we see the numbers as they are and we are realistic."
He echoed Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford’s call for the state’s elections director to resign. “There could not have been a more complicated election placed in less competent hands,” he said.
Initial returns held up in competitive races for City Council president and comptroller, too.
Of the 3,700 in-person returns released in the Democratic primary for Council president, state Del. Nick Mosby took 1,657. He maintains a strong lead with about 40% of the vote. City Councilwoman Shannon Sneed trails with about 27%, and former City Council Carl Stokes took about 24% so far.
Mosby said he too has deep concerns about the election process, and the potential that people in the city were disenfranchised.
“We need to demand complete explanations,” he said. “I’m not claiming victory. I’m not thinking that this is over. I would like to make sure they thoroughly vet the process.”
It remained an extremely close race for the Democratic nomination for city comptroller. City Councilman Bill Henry remained ahead of longtime incumbent Joan Pratt by about 2,400 votes. However, Pratt received about 100 more in-person votes than her challenger, based on the partial returns.