Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and challenger David Blair Credit: Submitted photos

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:35 p.m. and 10:20 a.m. Aug. 7, 2022, to include statements from the candidates and reflect the final ballot count. This story was updated at 9:45 p.m. Aug. 6, 2022, to add information about the number of ballots remaining to be counted and at 10:45 p.m. to provide more information about the candidates. It was updated at 10:55 a.m. to include more information about the recount.

Incumbent Marc Elrich has declared victory after appearing to have beaten challenger David Blair in the Democratic primary for county executive. Elrich led by 42 votes after canvassers tallied provisional votes Saturday and completed the tally of 34 outstanding ballots Sunday.

In a prepared statement, Blair announced Sunday morning he would request a full recount.

“After several weeks of counting and virtually all votes recorded, the Associated Press has declared this race too close to call. Given the extremely close margin, we will be requesting a full recount and are hopeful that the outcome will be in our favor,” Blair said.

If the results hold, this would mark the second time that Elrich has triumphed over Blair. The close 2022 Democratic primary is a repeat of the 2018 primary in which Elrich beat Blair by 77 votes to win his first term.

County Council Member Hans Riemer was the other major contender in the race, but conceded on July 20, the day after the July 19 primary election.

According to results reported to the State Board of Elections, Elrich has 55,469 votes (39.2% of ballots cast) to Blair’s 55,427 votes (39.17%), showing Blair had gained 156 votes to drop Elrich’s lead to 42 as of Saturday night. As of Friday night’s tally, Elrich was leading by 198 votes heading into the final days of counting and canvassing.

Under Maryland law, if results of the winning and second-place candidates are within .25% or less, the recount is free to the candidate who requests it. There are four options for candidates who request a recount. According to the State Board of Elections, they are:

  • Option 1: A manual tabulation of printed reports from early voting, election day, and the mail-in and provisional ballot canvasses. Printed reports from precinct tabulators and high-speed scanners (if available) are examined and manually tabulated.
  • Option 2: A re-scan of voted paper ballots involved in the recount using precinct tabulators or high-speed scanner (if available) to reproduce early voting, precinct or mail-in or provisional ballot canvass totals
  • Option 3: A manual recount of voted paper ballots involved in the recount
  • Option 4: A manual recount of ballot images of voted ballots involved in the recount

Aaron Kraut, a spokesman for Blair, wrote in a text message Sunday that the campaign has not decided which option it will request for the recount. Gilberto Zelaya, a spokesman for the county’s Board of Elections, wrote in a text message that Blair will need to file the petition for a recount with the same office where he filed his candidacy for county executive.

The county Board of Elections is “aiming” to certify the election on Friday, Zelaya added. Blair then has three days to request a recount, according to state law — which means any type of recount wouldn’t start until next weekend at the earliest. 

At about 9:30 p.m. Saturday, the county Board of Elections said in a tweet that 34 provisional ballots remained to be scanned Sunday and the results would then be sent to the state elections board. The tally of those votes did not change the results in the county executive race.

At 11:38 p.m. Saturday, Elrich said in a tweet that he was “honored” to be the Democratic nominee.

Twenty minutes later, he sent a tweet saying a recount wouldn’t change anything.

The primary winner will face Reardon Sullivan, former chair of the county’s Republican Central Committee, in the November general election. With Democrats outnumbering Republicans by about 4 to 1 in voter registration in the county, either Democrat would be the favorite to beat Sullivan in the general election.

 In 2018, Elrich, a longtime political figure who has used the county’s public financing system in both 2018 and 2022, also had to wait days before learning whether he had beaten Blair, a businessman from Potomac who has spent millions of dollars of his own money to finance both attempts to win the Democratic nomination for the county’s top political office. In 2018, Blair requested a partial recount, but ultimately did not prevail.

On Friday, Gilberto Zelaya, a spokesman for the Board of Elections, said that the counting of all mail-in ballots — roughly 75,000 in total — had been completed by early Friday afternoon, 17 days after the July 19 primary. Saturday marked the 12th day of canvassing since the counting of mail-in ballots began July 21.

There were well over 7,000 provisional ballots to process. Kevin Karpinski, attorney for the county’s Board of Elections, and other county election officials have said that they hoped to complete canvassing all of them by the end of Saturday.

Alysoun McLaughlin, the county’s acting election director, has said she expects to meet the goal of certifying the primary election results by Aug. 12. Once the election results have been certified by the county elections board, candidates have three days to request a recount.

The campaign between Elrich and Blair centered on issues including public safety, education, the county government’s handling of the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, economic development and housing. 

Elrich’s campaign touted his efforts during the coronavirus pandemic to not only keep residents safe, but to get a high percentage of the county’s population vaccinated. During multiple campaign events, he said he has the knowledge and political experience to continue leading Maryland’s largest county — and that the county was about to turn the corner on fixing such critical issues as a lack of affordable housing.

Blair and his supporters touted his business background, saying he would bring a fresh approach to running county government. Blair is the former owner of Catalyst Health Solutions —  a firm that manages prescription drug benefits for companies and government agencies — and touted that the annual budget of the company was around $6 billion by the time he sold it, almost as much as the county’s annual operating budget now.

“Sixteen months ago, we launched our campaign to create a better Montgomery County. We believe that Montgomery County can lead the region in good-paying jobs, properly prepare our students for college and sustainable careers, build affordable housing, effectively implement climate policy and take on rising crime while improving policing,” Blair said in Sunday’s statement. “As economic and racial inequities continue to widen, we recognize that the status quo is not good enough and we must strive to do better.”

Elrich decided to use the county’s public campaign financing system, receiving nearly $700,000 in public funds, according to a June report from the county’s Department of Finance, which helps manage the fund.

Blair poured in about $4.8 million of his own money to finance his campaign, which spent more than $5 million in the primary election, state campaign finance reports show. 

Elrich scored endorsements from many labor organizations, including MCGEO UFCW Local 1994 — the union for county employees — and the Montgomery County Education Association, which is the teachers union for Montgomery County Public Schools.

His campaign also saw endorsements from top Democrats including Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and  Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Takoma Park).

Meanwhile, Blair earned the support of well-known state senators including Cheryl Kagan and Senate Majority Leader Nancy King. He also was endorsed by the county’s chapter of the Sierra Club and The Washington Post

 

Julie Rasicot

Julie Rasicot can be reached at julie.rasicot@bethesdamagazine.com