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Government & Politics

By 9 Votes, Olszewski Wins Primary in Dems’ Baltimore Co. Executive Race

Former Del. John A. “Johnny O” Olszewski Jr. edged out state Sen. James Brochin by a mere nine votes Friday night to emerge the winner of the Democratic primary for Baltimore County executive, unofficial vote tallies showed.

County Councilwoman Vicki L. Almond ran third in the hotly contested race, 960 votes behind Brochin, according to the unofficial count by the Baltimore County Board of Elections in Hunt Valley.

“I remain humbled by the surge of support we’ve seen, and we are excited to work together to create a government that puts our communities ahead of special interests,” Olszewski, 35, said Friday night in a statement to the press, outside the historic Baltimore County Circuit Courthouse in downtown Towson, an hour after the votes were finally tallied.

Brochin campaign officials declined immediate comment, but many observers believe a petition for recount is inevitable.

The final result capped the latest in a long string of tedious days for election officials since the June 26 primary, as they counted and recounted thousands of provisional and absentee ballots in the days following the election night returns.

John A. “Johnny O” Olszewski Jr.

Elections officials’ work already has been made more difficult by a computer glitch at the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, revealed on the eve of the primary, in which voter registration changes made by tens of thousands of residents at the MVA were not transmitted to the State Board of Elections for processing. That meant that any of them who had attempted to make changes and wanted to vote on Election Day had to use a provisional ballot.

Earlier Friday, Olszewski’s lead over Brochin shrank from 42 votes – where it had been since last Thursday, when the first absentee ballots were counted – down to seven.

But he held on to the first-place finish he established on Election Day, ultimately capturing a total of 27,804 votes by Friday night, followed immediately by Brochin with 27,795 votes, and Almond with 26,835 votes.

Another Democratic candidate, Kevin Francis Marron, who did not campaign, finished a distant fourth.

Olszewski will face Republican Alfred W. Redmer Jr., 62, the Maryland insurance commissioner and former member of the House of Delegates, in the Nov. 6 general election. Redmer, who is backed by Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., soundly defeated conservative Del. Patrick L. McDonough, 74, in the GOP primary.

Andrew G. Bailey, a lawyer for the Baltimore County Board of Elections, examines a ballot that was challenged by one of the campaigns, as witnesses flank him and members of the election board, left, look on. Photo by William F. Zorzi.

Throughout the Democratic primary, the race seemed to pit Brochin against Almond, who enjoyed significant support from developers – a fact that the state senator painted as “pay-to-play” politics on the county.

But in the closing weeks, Almond openly attacked Brochin and his record in Annapolis, launching a negative campaign backed by a developer-funded super PAC and a slate controlled by former Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., now a top adviser and fundraiser for Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh.

As Brochin, 54, a four-term state senator, and Almond, 69, a second-term council member from Reisterstown, slugged it out in the final weeks, the Olszewski camp seemed to gather steam – and keep on going. Democratic voters appeared drawn to him as an alternative to those two candidates as much as they were to his proposals for universal pre-K, tuition-free community college and campaign finance reform.

Olszewski is a former 8½-year member of the Maryland House of Delegates representing District 6 in Eastern Baltimore County. A former public-school teacher who holds a PhD, he resides in Dundalk with wife Marisa Olszewski and their 2-year old daughter, Daria.

Elections officials Friday began the canvass of the absentee ballots at about 10 a.m., within minutes of picking up about 400 additional ballots from the post office. Eventually 909 absentees were fed into the ballot readers to tally.

Two absentee ballots were challenged by representatives from the Brochin and Olszewski camps – one each — but both were allowed by unanimous votes by the board, the after two campaigns all but withdrew their objections.

After completing the count of the absentees in the early afternoon, officials realized that the number of ballots was over by three from what had been counted earlier — 912 instead of 909. Elections officials then huddled before announcing at about 2:30 p.m. that the absentees would have to be recounted because of the discrepancy.

Ruie Marie LaVoie, Baltimore County’s elections administrator, gives last-minute instructions to election workers before they begin counting absentee ballots yet again, after moving ballot readers to the employees’ break room. Photo by William F. Zorzi.

“I want to get this right,” said Katie A. Brown, elections director for Baltimore County.

In order to speed up the process, ballot readers for the absentees were moved from the conference room across the hall to the employees’ break room, where officials fed the ballots one at a time into two machines.

Brown made it clear that she was going to stay as long as it took Friday to finalize the unofficial count, rather than dragging out the process any longer.

Meanwhile, the election board took up the matter of the 930-some ballots recommended earlier to be rejected, beginning with a presentation by Danna Archie-Williams, the elections official who oversees the provisional ballots. At about 3:45 p.m., the board voted unanimously to reject the ballots, agreeing with officials for any of the 16 reasons allowed under state law.

Then the long tedious process of counting the provisional ballots began again.

Across the hall, the absentees tally was finalized once more, with the count coming out to the correct total of 909.

Examining the tape totals from the ballot readers inside the lunch room, Ruie Marie LaVoie, the county’s elections administrator, broke into a wide grin and then slapped a high-five with Bruce Harris, an election board member, as a small round of applause broke out in a hallway.

The evening wore on as dozens of election workers counted nearly 1,600 provisional ballots and a couple hundred absentee ballots that had been held back from last week to protect the anonymity of the voters.

Finally, just before 8 p.m., Paul D. Lubell, president of the county election board, read the results from the last 1,239 Democratic ballots counted.

Olszewski emerged the victor – by nine votes.

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By 9 Votes, Olszewski Wins Primary in Dems’ Baltimore Co. Executive Race