City Council President Brandon Scott pulled ahead of former Mayor Sheila Dixon by a razor-thin margin with the addition of votes counted Sunday in Baltimore’s Democratic mayoral primary.
Scott inched upward to 28.7% of votes counted thus far in the primary, while Dixon claimed 28.4%. Less than 400 votes separate the two front-runners, the smallest margin between the pair in the race to date.
Turnout in Baltimore during the state’s first attempt at widespread voting by mail remains unknown. At least 18,500 votes, most of them likely to be Democratic, have yet to be counted, and ballots could still arrive.
Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs, said Scott’s lead, while based on incomplete returns, is “a big, big deal.”
A previous poll conducted for The Baltimore Sun, UB and WYPR-FM showed that "Dixon appeared to have a rock-solid strong base of support, but it wasn’t really growing,” he said, adding that the poll also showed many voters were undecided and many residents wanted change.
“The late votes are breaking towards him,” Hartley said.
In other returns updated Sunday night, state Del. Nick Mosby continued to build a significant lead in the Democratic primary for Baltimore City Council president over Councilwoman Shannon Sneed. Mosby had 41% of the vote to Sneed’s 29%. In the Democratic primary for Baltimore comptroller, City Councilman Bill Henry expanded his sizable lead over longtime incumbent Joan Pratt. He now leads by nearly 10,000 votes.
City election staff counted 22,863 ballots during a nine-hour canvass Sunday, drawing closer to completing the process of counting the 154,757 mailed ballots officials said they had received as of Sunday.
Still more ballots could arrive via mail, though they are increasingly unlikely to bear the June 2 postmark required to be counted. Baltimore Election Director Armstead Jones said no ballots arrived Sunday via the Postal Service.
Turnout in Baltimore for Tuesday’s primary has already surpassed that of the 2016 Democratic primary. Still, it’s unclear how many ballots remain outstanding, and there is also no precinct-level data to analyze.
Vote-by-mail ballots had to be postmarked by June 2 or placed in ballot drop boxes by 8 p.m. on that date. Ballots are not immediately counted after they arrive: Staff have been placing them in “quarantine” for 24 hours as a precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the weekend, elections staff picked up the pace of the canvas considerably, adding additional scanners and staff.
In the 1st District City Council primary, where there was a printing error that meant scanners couldn’t read the votes correctly, teams of two workers manually duplicated the votes recorded on each ballot. The work is tedious and slow, taking more than two minutes per ballot.
Representatives of both Dixon and Scott were present Sunday to watch the count; they declined to speak with reporters.
Scott tweeted late Saturday that he was “humbled” by the city’s support based on the day’s returns.
“Your support for #ANewWayForward is why we are seeing this surge of support now," he wrote.
On Sunday, as he waited for results, the 36-year-old Scott retweeted a digitally altered photo of himself as an elderly man with the caption “waiting on the results.”
“Accurate,” Scott added.
Dixon’s social media accounts made no mention of the race Sunday.
In the crowded mayoral field, Sunday’s results created even more distance between front-runners Dixon and Scott and the rest of the top candidates. Former U.S. Treasury Department official Mary Miller, currently in third place, was at 16%, while former state Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah had 11%. Incumbent Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who conceded the race Friday, trailed with only 6%.
Dixon served as mayor from 2007 to 2010, and earned a reputation as a competent city manager who oversaw a decline in violent crime. She is seeking to reclaim her old seat a decade after she was forced to resign amid a public corruption scandal.
Scott has campaigned on the idea that it’s time for a generational shift in City Hall. He’s argued that he has the ability to unite the city during a tumultuous time.
The lengthy vote counting process was an issue those familiar with voting by mail anticipated, but there have been other unexpected glitches. Ballots were delivered to Baltimore voters less than two weeks before the primary, a delay state officials blamed on a vendor. That vendor said the state was responsible because Maryland delivered voter lists late.
More voters than expected flocked to polling places on primary day, causing long lines and large crowds — the opposite of what organizers intended as they tried to reduce the number of voting centers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baltimore Sun reporters Alison Knezevich and Talia Richman contributed to this article.
Baltimore Democratic primary
These are the returns so far after elections officials counted all day Sunday. Officials said they still had roughly 18,500 ballots on hand to count from both parties, the vast majority from Democrats. More ballots could still arrive by mail.
Brandon Scott; 28.7%; 39,043
Sheila Dixon; 28.4%; 38,655
Mary Miller; 15.5%; 21,002
City Council president
Nick Mosby; 40.7%; 51,493
Shannon Sneed; 28.6%; 36,111
Carl Stokes; 21.6%; 27,307
Bill Henry; 53.9%; 67,038
Joan Pratt; 46.1%; 57,282