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As mail-in vote counting starts, anxious candidates are doing the math

Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger is one of the primary candidates who hopes mail-in votes will reverse a rival’s lead. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

For anxious campaigns that believe ballots can change the election, Thursday was marked with a lot of waiting.

It was the first day that local elections boards are legally permitted to start counting mail-in ballots. The process could last into early August.

“They’ll be counting next week,” said Nikki Charlson, deputy state elections administrator. “Some of the larger counties will continue to count into the following week.”

About 75% of the nearly 500,000 mail-in ballots sent to Maryland voters were sent to voters in Baltimore city, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Montgomery County alone mailed more than 115,000.

Charlson said vote counts in Frederick County may also require extra time.

Two years ago, the state was awash in mail-in ballots. The pandemic   expanded the voting method that allows for ballots to be mailed or deposited at secure collection boxes.

Emergency rules put in place under a state of emergency allowed elections boards to begin counting ballots as they were received. Vote tallies were then released to the public after the polls closed on election night.

That option is not available for the 2022 primary election.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed a bill codifying the rules used in 2020 into law.

Hogan, in his veto message, rejected the legislation, saying it lacked safeguards to prevent voting fraud. Hogan and other Republicans wanted signature verification and a ban of so-called ballot harvesting.

Elections workers in some counties, such as Baltimore County, are expected to work through the weekend. Smaller counties are expected to report first.

Somerset completed its first of likely two mail-in canvasses by midday Thursday. By late afternoon, Dorchester and Garrett also reported. None of the tallies swayed any results.

Any ballot postmarked by primary election day will be counted if it is received when a second round of counting occurs July 29.

Charlson said some counties will likely not complete their counts until the first week in August.

These ballots could matter in a number of close races around the state.

A Democratic field of 10 candidates for governor narrowed to three on Tuesday night. Wes Moore held a more than 35,000-vote lead over Tom Perez and  a nearly 65,000 lead over Comptroller Peter Franchot.

Franchot, who had been considered an early presumptive favorite, picked up the most votes from mail-ins in the three counties reporting Thursday afternoon.

Despite that, the candidates remained in the same order as Tuesday night. Franchot closed his gap by about 300 votes. Perez saw his deficit widen by 6 votes.

The Associated Press called the Republican primary for Dan Cox over Kelly Schulz on Tuesday. Schulz, however, has not conceded and said she will wait for every vote to be counted.

Statewide more than 86,000 mail-in ballots were sent to Republicans. As of Thursday, 41,230 or about 48% of those have been returned.

Schulz trails Cox by 37,855 votes — a deficit that would be difficult to close even if every Republican mail-in ballot were returned.

Republicans in Anne Arundel County are also watching to see if the 4,037 mail-in ballots will alter a close race between Jessica Haire and former Del. Herb McMillian.

Haire leads McMillian by 864 votes.

In Montgomery County, David Blair leads incumbent County Executive Marc Elrich by nearly 1,200 votes. The county mailed more than 88,000 ballots to Democratic voters. Of those, more than 29,000 have been returned.

The ballot could also have an effect on other local races, including the closely watched state’s attorney’s races in Baltimore city and Baltimore County.

In Baltimore County, Robbie Leonard leads incumbent Democratic State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger by 860 votes. The board of elections in that county began counting returned mail-ins at 10 a.m. including some of the more than 30,000 sent back by Democratic voters.