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Election officials certify Montgomery County primary, recount ahead

Boxes of ballots wait to be reviewed by canvassers for the Montgomery County Board of Elections in July. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

The Montgomery County Board of Elections certified the county’s primary election results Saturday afternoon after counting 101 recently discovered uncounted provisional ballots, narrowing County Executive Marc Elrich’s lead over Potomac businessman David Blair for the Democratic nomination for county executive to 35 votes.

But those looking for a final result in the race may have to wait a bit longer because Blair announced last week that he planned to petition for a full recount.

Thursday’s discovery of the uncounted ballots was the latest twist in an already intense election cycle that has stretched well beyond the July 19 primary. The Board of Elections had planned to certify the results on Friday, but delayed certification by one day after officials discovered 102 uncounted provisional ballots. The board rejected one ballot, and officials counted the 101 remaining ballots Saturday morning. Blair gained seven votes after that count.

On Aug. 6, after election officials completed nearly three weeks of canvassing ballots, Elrich, who led by 42 votes, declared victory. The Associated Press had deemed the race too close to call, saying it would not declare a winner until election officials certify the vote count and all potential election challenges have passed.

Neither Elrich nor Blair immediately returned requests for comment Saturday.

The matchup between the two men — and the slim margin between them — is reminiscent of the 2018 Democratic primary, when Elrich edged Blair by 77 votes, after a partial recount that Blair had requested. Elrich, who is seeking a second term, faced Blair again this year along with term-limited County Council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large) and Gaithersburg resident Peter James in an intense Democratic primary marked by long delays, heavy spending and sharp attacks from candidates and PACs.

The winner of the nomination will face Republican Reardon Sullivan in November, though this deep-blue county has not elected a Republican county executive since the 1970s.

Even with a recount looming, certification moves the state one step closer to closing out an election cycle that has been fraught with challenges. The state’s Election Day was pushed back three weeks to allow more time to resolve a legal challenge over redistricting, local election boards reported staffing shortages, and an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots delayed results because of a state law prohibiting counting of mailed ballots until two days after the election.

The county board decided on Friday to push certification back to Saturday afternoon to canvass the remaining ballots and meet the deadline for the State Board of Elections’ certification meeting, which is scheduled for Monday afternoon and will officially mark the end of the gubernatorial primary.

Elrich said in an interview last week that he didn’t think a recount would change the outcome of the race, noting that Blair only gained two votes during the partial recount in the 2018 race.

During that race, Blair filed for a partial recount because the margin of the race did not fall under the threshold for a state-funded recount. The General Assembly changed the threshold earlier this year. Now, under Maryland state law, the state will conduct the recount at no cost to the candidate if the margin of difference between the two candidates with the most votes is 0.25 percentage points or fewer. Elrich is up by 0.03 percentage points.

Once Blair files his petition, the recount will begin within two business days and continue daily until the recount is completed. It’s unclear how long the recount could take, but under Maryland state law, a losing candidate has until three days after local certification of the results to file a petition for a recount. In 2018, it took one day for the partial recount to be complete. A full recount will likely take longer.

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