The slow, methodical process of counting ballots resumed Thursday in Gaithersburg, where the race for Montgomery County executive and another contest remain too close to call.
By day’s end, with the addition of a few hundred votes, Councilmember Marc B. Elrich’s lead over businessman David T. Blair narrowed slightly, from 149 to 141. Elrich now has 36,252 votes; Blair has 36,111. The top vote-getters in the six-candidate Democratic primary field are now separated by a paper-thin 0.0011 percent of the vote. More than 124,000 Montgomery County Democrats cast ballots in the June 26 primary.
More than 7,000 votes, divided almost evenly between provisional and absentee ballots, will decide who wins the Democratic primary in the race for executive, a process expected to last several more days, with work continuing over the weekend.
Margie Roher, public information officer for the Montgomery County Board of Elections, said that as of mid-day Thursday there were 3,629 provisional ballots and approximately 3,700 absentee ballots for the board to review.
Most of the provisional ballots were cast because voters weren’t listed in the database at the polling place at which they sought to cast a ballot on primary day. They were given a provisional ballot along with a form, on which they could state why their ballot should be counted.
Absentee ballots that are postmarked by June 26 and received by 10 a.m. Friday, July 6, will be counted, Roher said.
Debbie Spielberg, chairwoman of the Elrich campaign, and Mark Nardone, Blair’s campaign manager, watched the elections board and the canvass teams engage in the slow process of evaluating provisional ballots and the individual transfer of print-at-home absentee ballots onto ballots that can be scanned. The process is playing out in a classroom inside elections headquarters in a nondescript Gaithersburg office park.
Robin Ficker, winner of the uncontested GOP primary, was also on hand for part of the day.
In all, more than a dozen observers and journalists watched the vote-count move forward, careful to stand inside blue tape on the floor intended to keep outsiders from getting too close to the elections process.
The careful procedure of evaluating each provisional ballot is expected to run through the weekend. Unofficial results may be available by Sunday evening, Roher said.
The board’s “audit” process then takes three or four days, she said. “We anticipate that we will certify the election around July 16.”
If there is a challenge from either of the campaigns, or a request for a recount — for which the board is bracing — the process will be further delayed.
The board met behind closed doors July 4 in a hastily called executive session “to discuss the process by which they would conduct” the vote count, Roher said, adding, “They were consulting with legal counsel, which is allowed under the Open Meetings Act.”
Until last week, it was assumed that the winner of the Democratic primary would cruise to victory in a county where Republicans are out-numbered. But with the emergence of Councilmember Nancy M. Floreen as a potential independent candidate in November, the race feels much more uncertain.
It is widely assumed that Floreen enters the race only if the more left-leaning Elrich wins the primary, but not if Blair prevails.
The race for executive is one of two in which a winner has not yet been determined.
In the House of Delegates race in District 16, the battle for the third seat is a neck-and-neck contest between Samir Paul, an IBM systems analyst who became a public school teacher, and Sara Love, former policy director for the ACLU. Paul is clinging to a 35-vote lead, 10,915 to 10,880.
Incumbent Democrats Marc Korman (13,088 votes) and Ariana Kelly (11,688) finished first and second, and are poised to win re-election in November. Only one Republican filed to run in the 16th, a Democratic stronghold.