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Baltimore election officials still counting votes, delaying certification of primary

Scanner technician Ivan McAfee operates one of two scanners Monday being used to scan the replicated ballots that couldn't be read previously. Vote canvassing for the primary continues at the Baltimore City Board of Elections warehouse.
Scanner technician Ivan McAfee operates one of two scanners Monday being used to scan the replicated ballots that couldn't be read previously. Vote canvassing for the primary continues at the Baltimore City Board of Elections warehouse. (Amy Davis)

As they have through much of the rest of the 2020 primary season, Baltimore’s political candidates continued Friday to wait.

Certification, the finalization of election results scheduled for Friday under the state’s election calendar, was unlikely to be finished by the end of the day, city election Director Armstead Jones announced to his board during an afternoon meeting.

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Election staff were still counting votes, Jones reported. The board asked how many remained, but Jones didn’t offer an estimate. A livestream from the city’s elections warehouse showed most of the staff was dismissed shortly before 6 p.m. Friday. The feed ended several minutes later.

State officials were notified of the delay, Jones told his board.

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Other large jurisdictions, including Baltimore County and Montgomery County, also were still counting votes as of Friday evening.

The winners of June 2 primary, the pinnacle of a long and arduous campaign season in Baltimore, have largely been decided. On Tuesday, City Council President Brandon Scott declared victory over former Mayor Sheila Dixon in the race for the Democratic mayoral nomination.

Ahead by more than 2,300 votes after a week, Scott’s margin grew to more than 3,100 votes in final results released Friday night. He finished with almost 30% of the vote.

A spokeswoman for Dixon’s campaign said Friday she would comment once all votes are counted and the process is complete.

Dixon earlier this week thanked elections workers for the time they’ve put into the election, and said they must be allowed to finish the job.

The Scott campaign said Friday night that it sought “finality” for voters.

“We have reached out for an explanation about why the board is not meeting this deadline,” Scott campaign manager Marvin James said of the extension of the certification process. “Counting every vote is important, but the voters of Baltimore also deserve finality in this process.”

State Del. Nick Mosby claimed victory earlier in the week in the Democratic primary for Council president, beating Councilwoman Shannon Sneed 40% to 29%, according to results as of Friday. Democratic Councilman Bill Henry soundly defeated longtime Democratic Comptroller Joan Pratt 55% to 45% in the first competitive race for that office in years.

The results remained incomplete for much of the week because the counting process, like the rest of the 2020 primary, had been a slow one. Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the primary to be delayed by more than a month and to be conducted largely by mail — the state’s first attempt at such an election on that scale.

Interest in the election, particularly in Baltimore, was high. More than 150,000 people cast city ballots, most via mail or ballot drop boxes, extending the counting process to almost two weeks.

Jones said Friday he expected to finish counting votes in the evening, but likely would not ask his board to certify the race until a later date. He did not specify whether that would be over the weekend or on Monday.

Once an election is certified, it starts the clock for any candidate who wishes to challenge the results. A losing candidate has three days to file a petition for a recount. Such a candidate must pay for the process, unless they gain votes equal to at least 2% of all votes cast in the race or if the difference between the top two candidates is 0.1% or less of the votes cast for the pair.

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A third-party firm that audits Maryland’s election results by rescanning all ballot images already has reviewed the first half of Baltimore’s returns. The system flags any results that are more than 0.5% different from the returns tallied by the local boards of elections. Baltimore’s returns have not been flagged thus far, according to audit data.

If Baltimore submits its final returns Friday, the second half of the data could be audited by Monday, state officials said.

City election staff were expected to count about 1,000 remaining ballots Friday, Jones told the city Board of Elections on Friday morning, including overseas ballots and a pool of standard ballots which were held back to obscure the identity of overseas voters. Only 125 overseas ballots were cast, according to state data.

Also, the total number of absentee voters increased. An additional 163 absentee ballots were added since Tuesday.

Jones said Friday morning that vote-by-mail ballots continued to arrive at his office throughout the week with the June 2 postmark that’s required for them to be counted.

“The U.S. Postal Service has not been kind to me,” he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Talia Richman contributed to this article.

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