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Mail-in ballots continue to favor Bates in Baltimore state’s attorney race

Though thousands of mail-in ballots remain to be counted in the Democratic primary for Baltimore state’s attorney, early returns Thursday favored defense attorney Ivan Bates, who also came out ahead of two-term incumbent Marilyn Mosby in Election Day and early voting.

Baltimore Board of Elections staff began canvassing mail-in ballots Thursday morning, launching a process that is likely to take several days as staff members laboriously tally more than 20,000 ballots sent in by city voters.

As of Thursday evening, about 10,000 ballots had been counted. Bates won more than 3,700 votes, topping Mosby’s 2,100 votes. Thiru Vignarajah, a former deputy attorney general, won the most mail-in ballots on Thursday, with just over 4,000, but the votes did not make up for his third-place performance on Election Day.

The early tally did not bode well for Mosby, who needs a significant number of mail-in ballots to make up for Election Day’s results.

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby speaks before supporters and campaign workers at Melba's Place on primary election night in Baltimore. Mosby has to capture roughly half of the mail-in ballots in the three-candidate race to overtake Ivan Bates. (The Baltimore Sun via AP)

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby speaks before supporters and campaign workers at Melba’s Place on primary election night in Baltimore. (The Baltimore Sun via AP)

With all precincts reporting, Bates had 41% of the Election Day and early vote, while Mosby had 32% and Vignarajah lagged behind with 26%. Mosby needs about half of the mail-in ballots to go her way in order to secure a victory, a prospect that began to look less likely as Thursday’s canvass got underway.

As of Thursday morning, more than 22,000 Democratic mail-in ballots had been returned, or just over 50% of those sent out to voters. It is difficult to predict how many ballots are likely to return in the coming days, given the changes in voting patterns that took place during the pandemic.

In 2018, for example, the statewide return rate on mail-in ballots was about 70%, but in 2020, it was nearly 90% as more voters chose not to cast ballots in person due to COVID-19.

“It’s hard to know what our new normal is,” said Nikki Charlson, deputy state elections administrator.

The race for state’s attorney has been among the most closely watched in a busy campaign season as Mosby sought a third term as Baltimore’s top prosecutor. Already a controversial figure, Mosby was also federally indicted in January on charges of perjury and false statements on mortgage applications.

Mosby has pleaded not guilty and her trial is set for September. She faces allegations that she falsely claimed pandemic-related financial hardships in order to withdraw money from her city retirement account and failed to disclose an IRS lien when she applied for mortgages on two Florida vacation homes.

Mosby’s popularity has also flagged as she faced widespread criticism for her handling of violent crime in the city and her management of the state’s attorney’s office.

Mosby’s campaign did not return a request for comment Thursday.

Vignarajah’s campaign faced a late challenge when allegations surfaced that he was abusive toward subordinates at previous positions, including at the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office and the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.

Bates ran on a platform of addressing repeat violent offenders while avoiding criminalizing poverty.  He told reporters Thursday that the ballot-counting process was similar to waiting for a jury to deliberate.

“I’m a trial lawyer, and this process reminds me of a jury,” Bates said.

If Bates wins, he will face off against Roya Hanna, a former Baltimore assistant state’s attorney who dropped out of the Democratic race to run as an independent in November’s general election.

Daily Record government reporter Bryan Sears contributed to this story.