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Government & Politics

Elrich Wins Montgomery County Executive Democratic Primary by 80 Votes

Councilmember Marc B. Elrich won the Democratic nomination in the race for Montgomery County executive, elections officials announced late Sunday. Elrich squeaked past businessman David T. Blair following an analysis of thousands of absentee and provisional ballots, a review that stretched over several days.


In the final count, Elrich had 37,529 votes, 29.02 percent of ballots cast, giving him an 80-vote victory over Blair in the six-candidate field. Blair was the choice of 37,449 voters, 28.95 percent of the primary electorate. Elrich had a 492-vote lead after early voting and election day ballots were tabulated.


Elrich said his win “says something about my message. People understand we have to get more serious about schools and transportation. If we’re going to develop we have to make sure that those pieces come along with it.”


Elrich’s margin may be just wide enough to avoid an automatic recount, but Blair is expected to file a recount request. 


Montgomery County executive candidate Marc B. Elrich talks with supporters during the county’s board of elections canvass Sunday. Photo by Bruce DePuyt


“With almost 130,000 votes cast, the margin of 80 votes is razor-thin, and David Blair has been gaining ground as the votes have been counted. There is more work to do in this process. We still need to understand fully the scope and effect of the [Motor Vehicle Administration’s] untimely updating of key voter registration data. We are committed to seeing that the most credible possible outcome is finally reached. Our supporters and all Montgomery County residents, deserve nothing less,” reads a Sunday night statement from the Blair campaign. 

Elrich’s victory sets up a battle with anti-tax activist Robin Ficker, the only candidate to seek the Republican nomination. Ficker, a former one-term state delegate who served from 1979 to 1983, has run for office numerous over the years, often changing parties to do so. He led the successful push for a term limits referendum in 2016, a significant factor in the unusually large field of candidates for seeking a county council seat this year.


But Ficker may not be Elrich’s only hurdle.


Nancy M. Floreen (D), a term-limited member of the council, is contemplating a run for executive as an independent. It’s expected she will change her party registration as early as Monday to make her eligible. She faces an Aug. 6 deadline for gathering signatures and filing her paperwork.


Floreen, a former planning board member and mayor of Garrett Park, was the top vote-getter in her first run for the Council in 2002, and observers believe she has retained much of her popularity.


Earlier this year she declared in an interview that “it would be a disaster for Montgomery County if Marc Elrich was elected” county executive. She told Maryland Matters on Sunday that she will make an announcement Wednesday.


On Sunday night, Elrich wouldn’t directly comment on the possible Floreen candidacy. 


But he then went on to say, “I feel good about where I am. I think the Democratic Party is going to get behind me. I think it will be fine.”


Elrich has told friends he thinks Floreen will, upon reflection, opt not to run — to avoid throwing the election to Ficker, a verbally adroit gadfly considered a wild card in a county known for its sober, sensible approach to government.


“I’m going to sit down with people in the business community and make sure they understand that I have no secret plans to make their life difficult,” Elrich said Sunday night.


Kevin B. Karpinski, attorney for the Montgomery County Board of Elections, talks Sunday with representatives of the campaigns in close races. Photo by Bruce DePuyt


The board of elections spent the last four days going over 10,612 absentee and 3,629 provisional ballots.  Many of the provisional ballots they considered were rejected because they were not cast by registered Democrats but by Republicans, Libertarians, members of the Green Party or unaffiliated voters.


“All these people voted a party ballot [when they] were not entitled to vote a party ballot,” elections director Margaret A. Jurgensen told the board, referencing boxes stuffed with large provisional ballot envelopes. When board members indicated they wanted to go through them one by one, to guarantee the ballot inside matched the information on the outside, Jurgensen instructed a staff member, “Get whoever is in the building down here.”


Election day voters receive a provisional ballot, as opposed to a standard ballot, when their stated information doesn’t match Board of Elections records. After filling out basic information — name, address, voter ID number, birth date, etc. — the form says, “If this is a primary election, pick the ballot you want to vote.” 


Members of the Montgomery County Board of Elections go over provisional ballots Sunday. From left are David Naimon, Alexander Vincent, Alan Banov, Chairman James Shalleck and Mary Ann Keeffe. Photo by Bruce DePuyt


Directly underneath that language is a warning: “Your ballot should match the party you selected [above]. If you pick a ballot for another party, your ballot will be rejected.”  It appears many voters chose to ignore, or did not understand, that provision.


In an apparent nod to the contested primary races on the Democratic side, Board of Elections Chairman James Shalleck offered his colleague a potential theory: “They wanted to vote where the action was, right?”


Alan Banov, James Shalleck and Mary Ann Keeffe go over ballots Sunday. Photo by Bruce DePuyt


As board members went through the ballots with the help of their attorney, Kevin B. Karpinski, members of the Montgomery elections board also expressed exasperation with the state Motor Vehicle Administration, which disclosed just days before the primary — and after early voting had been concluded — that the agency failed to pass along address and party affiliation changes of 83,493 voters.


“It’s terrible,” Shalleck said. “The MVA screwed up.”


He later added: “The voters did nothing wrong. The state did something wrong.”


Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R) has expressed anger at the MVA’s failure to forward voter updates to the state Board of Elections and has ordered a thorough review. Although the General Assembly has adjourned for the year, a legislative panel has scheduled a hearing for Thursday at which MVA officials are expected to get slammed for their failures.


Despite the MVA failure, it’s clear that some voters did err, by demanding a ballot they weren’t entitled to. Poll workers are trained to provide a provisional ballot that matches the voter’s request rather than get into an argument at the polling place, officials said.


A contrast in style and substance


Elrich, a former member of the Takoma Park City Council, ran with the support of numerous civic, progressive and labor organizations. He has long advocated for county developers to “pay their fair share” for the costs associated with the homes and businesses they construct.


He participated in the county’s new public financing program.


Blair’s campaign centered on his promise to bring his business know-how to county government, to help jump-start a local economy that some feel is under-performing. A first-time candidate for public office, Blair poured at least $2.6 million of his own money into his campaign, enough to fund an army of door-knockers and flood mailboxes with literature. 


Given the razor-thin final outcome, Blair may have been hurt by the presence of two other candidates running as more moderate Democrats, Councilmember Roger Berliner and Del. C. William Frick. Frick came in last in the six-candidate field, but his 4,500 votes would have been more than enough to give Blair an easy win.


District 16 race settled


Also resolved on Sunday was a too-close-to-call House of Delegates race in District 16. Sara Love, former policy director for the ACLU, scored a come-from-behind victory over teacher Samir Paul. With all ballots counted, Love bested Paul by 11 votes — 11,295 to 11,284.


The margin — 0.01 percent — is believed to be close enough to trigger a state-funded recount. 


Incumbents Marc Korman and Ariana Kelly finished first and second, with 13,092 and 11,695 votes respectively. Assuming she prevails in November in the Democratic-dominated 16th District, Love will take the seat being vacated by Frick.


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Elrich Wins Montgomery County Executive Democratic Primary by 80 Votes