The top races are settled, but ballot counting is still underway in Maryland primary

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Though most of the major races are settled, the vote tallying in Maryland’s primary is still underway as mail-in ballots continue to trickle into local elections offices and some aren’t scheduled to be opened and counted until Wednesday or later.

The Democratic and Republican nominations for governor, comptroller and attorney general have all been determined, as well as high-profile local races such as Baltimore state’s attorney.

But with all 188 seats in the General Assembly and important county and local races on the ballot, many more remain unsettled.

“The process is unfolding as it should,” said David Levine, an elections integrity fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for Securing Democracy. “This is how you methodically count ballots in accordance with the state laws that Maryland has. I would encourage people to be patient.”

After counting early-voting and in-person primary day results last week, local officials are still counting hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots that voters sent by mail or placed in designated drop boxes. The number for those ballots still was growing Monday because ballots postmarked by July 19 can be accepted through July 29. That deadline also applies to ballots from members of the military or voters overseas.

Just under 309,000 ballots — 247,000 from Democrats, 50,000 from Republicans and the rest from independent or other voters — had been received out of nearly 515,000 total sent, according to the latest numbers from the State Board of Elections. The number returned increased by tens of thousands over the weekend.

Wednesday also marks the first day counties can count provisional ballots — those that voters cast in-person last Tuesday but that were not counted initially for reasons such as the voter had requested a mail-in ballot or changed their address.

A spokesman for the State Board of Elections did not respond to a question Monday about how many estimated provisional ballots there are across Baltimore and Maryland’s 23 counties. And though the state had indicated previously that final certification of the results could come the week of Aug. 8, the spokesman said some local boards may need to continue counting into the week of Aug. 14.

Races that may remain undecided for days include primaries for Baltimore County state’s attorney and county executives in Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties.

In the Baltimore County contest, Democratic incumbent Scott Shellenberger has led challenger Robbie Leonard during several recent days of counting. The county went through more mail-ins Monday, and will be logging provisional ballots Wednesday and other ballots Friday.

In the Republican primary for Anne Arundel County executive, County Councilmember Jessica Haire was about 1,100 votes ahead of former Del. Herb McMillan. Election workers will gather Wednesday in Glen Burnie to count about 2,500 provisional ballots and again Friday to count an estimated 7,000 mail-in ballots.

And in Montgomery County, the Democratic primary race between incumbent County Executive Marc Elrich and challenger David Blair was reminiscent of their last race in 2018, which Elrich won by 77 votes. The latest results showed Elrich with 39,117 and Blair with 38,976.

“I love close elections,” said John Willis, a University of Baltimore professor who served as Maryland’s secretary of state from 1995 to 2003. “The candidates don’t but I like them. They show everybody the importance of voting.”

Willis pointed to a few state delegate races that have flipped since Election Day and still remain narrow. In the Baltimore-based 45th district, for instance, fewer than 100 votes separate the second, third and fourth spots in a race where the top three vote-getters will advance.

“Elections are not over on Election Day,” Willis said. “It takes at least 10 days for all the different pots to get counted.”

Turnout and election integrity

Nearly 638,000 Marylanders turned out for early voting and in-person on primary day, which was about 17% of the 3.7 million eligible primary voters, the state announced last week.

The addition of Democrats and Republicans who returned mail-in votes — at least according to the number of them returned as of Sunday — would mean total turnout would reach 25%. That would eclipse the turnout from the last gubernatorial election year, when Republican Gov. Larry Hogan faced no primary opposition and Democrats had a competitive race for their nominee to run against him.

Turnout had been a major question for campaigns and political observers after redistricting issues pushed the primary from late June to mid-July, and as many voters remained undecided even as voting began.

This month’s primary was also the first in which election officials had to operate every precinct — requiring hiring and training staff — and to handle the influx of mail-in ballots that became popular at the outset of the pandemic.

“We’ve never had an election like this so there’s no comparison,” Willis said.

Levine, the election integrity expert who previously served as a local elections director in Idaho and now lives in Maryland, has closely watched how Maryland has administered the primary. He said it’s been “accurate and secure.”

There were notable issues, he said, regarding the multiple mail-in ballots that were sent to some voters, missing flash drives in Baltimore City and incorrect sample ballots, but there is “no reason to question the legitimacy of the election as well as the legitimacy of the results.”

Still, he said it will be important for election officials to review how the issues happened to prevent them going forward, and to avoid any chances for “bad actors” to use those mistakes to undermine confidence in the process.

Before the primary, political observers had warned that some candidates might use the late-counted mail-in ballots to stoke fears of an insecure and fraudulent process, as former President Donald Trump did in 2020.

“I think Maryland was right to set expectations lower. They have relatively less experience than other states,” Levine said of mail-in voting.

If voters come across information that raises questions about the security or accuracy of the process, Levine recommends reaching out to multiple trusted sources, whether they are local or state officials. He also encourages those voters to consider looking into whether they can view the process themselves — as mail-in ballot canvassing is open to the public — or consider getting involved in the process in the future.

The Baltimore Sun reporter Alison Knezevich and Baltimore Sun Media reporter Dana Munro contributed to this article.