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Montgomery plans to continue counting ballots into the weekend

Canvassers for the Montgomery County Board of Elections review mail-in ballots for the primary election on July 21 in Germantown, Md. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)
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Montgomery County election officials plan to continue counting ballots into the weekend, with thousands of mail-in and provisional ballots in the gubernatorial primary left to count before a winner can be named in the Democratic primary for county executive and other local races.

Under Maryland law, each county has until the second Friday after the election, or two days after it completes its count, to certify and send local results to the state. Once all the local boards finish counting and certify, the state board of elections will host a meeting to certify the election — a process that’s unique to the gubernatorial primary race, said Nikki Baines Charlson, deputy administrator at the Maryland State Board of Elections.

Baines Charlson said she anticipates many counties will wrap up counting and certify Friday, but some will take additional time to finish tabulating the influx of mail-in ballots voters cast this year.

2022 Maryland primary elections results

The bulk of outstanding ballots remain in Montgomery County, the state’s most populous county. Election officials said they have at least 17,000 more mail-in ballots to count, as well as just over 8,000 provisional ballots and any mailed ballots that arrive before the cutoff at 10 a.m. Friday. The board plans to continue canvassing through Saturday and will add additional dates as needed, Montgomery County elections spokesman Gilberto Zelaya said in an interview. The county is aiming to complete its count by Aug. 12.

“If we could do it before then,” Zelaya said, “that would be better.”

Most statewide races have already been called, but a few key local races still depend on those lingering votes. In Montgomery County, incumbent Marc Elrich and businessman David Blair are in a tight race for the Democratic nomination for county executive. Democratic primaries for eight other county council seats also remain too close to call.

Officials have noted that it’s not unusual for local races to take time to call. In 2018, it took nearly two weeks to reach a result in the Democratic primary for Montgomery County executive — also a tight race between Elrich and Blair, in which Elrich narrowly won by 77 votes. But this year officials dealt with pre-pandemic election procedures, the widespread popularity of mail-in ballots and logistical challenges that have made the process slower. Officials also could not begin to process mailed ballots until two days after the July 19 election, according to Maryland law.

State Board of Elections Chair William G. Voelp said a meeting to certify the results of the election will be held sometime in August, but a date has not yet been finalized.

“It’s common that it’s delayed a few days,” Voelp said of election certification. “It’s not so common for it to be two weeks.”

The death this week of the board’s vice chair, Malcolm L. Funn, means all four remaining board members must be present to reach a quorum.

Zelaya, from Montgomery, said the county will enter “phase two” of tabulating mail-in ballots on Friday. Phase two signifies that the board of elections has stopped accepting mail-in ballots. So far, the board has canvassed and counted more than 47,000 votes, Zelaya said.

Teams have worked every day since the county began canvassing on July 21, but Zelaya emphasized how intensive the process is — especially for web delivery and provisional ballots that take extra steps to properly account for.

“Just because we’re not canvassing doesn’t mean we’re not working,” Zelaya said. “I welcome everyone to come and watch for 10 minutes, then you will realize why it takes so long.”