Democrats David Blair and Marc Elrich Credit: Joseph Tran

As county election workers concluded the first day of a recount in the Democratic primary for county executive, challenger David Blair appeared to gain four votes from the early voting period while incumbent Marc Elrich lost four votes.

Elrich, who is seeking a second term, beat Blair in the July 19 primary by 35 votes, according to results certified by the county’s Board of Elections earlier this month. According to those results, David Blair received 8,328 votes during a week of early voting, while Elrich received 7,453 votes.

In total, more than 20,000 ballots from early voting were reviewed Friday. More than 140,000 votes will be reviewed during the recount.

The elections board posted the results of the first day of a recount, which had been requested by Blair, at around 5:30 p.m. in the gymnasium at the Germantown Community Center where election workers from several counties were counting ballots. That’s when campaign workers for Blair and Elrich first noticed the difference in the vote counts — Blair had 8,332 votes and Elrich had 7,449 votes.

Election workers also finished reviewing Election Day ballots from Election Districts 1 (northeastern parts of the county) and 3 on Friday — there are 13 districts across the county. The results from those districts remained unchanged after the recount:

  • 474 votes for Blair and 344 votes for Elrich in District 1
  • 156 votes for Blair and 173 votes for Elrich in District 3

Election workers had begun logging recount results for District 2, but they weren’t finished by the time the review ended for the day. 

Despite the four votes gained for Blair and four votes lost for Elrich, it’s not certain that the change was a direct flip between the two candidates. That’s because election workers could have identified votes for Blair or Elrich that weren’t direct switches from one candidate to the other, or because ballots that previously hadn’t been counted for some reason were then counted for either candidate. There also was the possibility of overvotes, which meant a ballot can’t be counted in the race, which could have decreased either candidate’s total.

In total, election workers referred more than 30 ballots to the elections board for review.

Kevin Karpinski, the board’s attorney, showed each of those ballots to board members and then to campaign staffers for Blair and Elrich.

Karpinski then directed the board to vote on how the ballot would be counted: as an overvote (meaning multiple candidates were selected and the ballot couldn’t be counted) or whether the ballot should be counted as a vote for Blair, Elrich or the other two Democratic candidates, Hans Riemer or Peter James, neither of whom was a top contender.

Blair and Elrich’s campaigns had the option of challenging the board’s decision by filling out a form. Karpinski told Bethesda Beat that the board’s decision would stand, but that the challenge would serve as documentation in case either campaign wanted to have the ballot reviewed in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

Many of the ballots reviewed were considered overvotes and thus were not counted. But there were some instances in which the campaigns challenged board decisions.

One occurred around 5:10 p.m. with a ballot showing a partially-filled circle for Elrich and no marks for any of the other candidates in the county executive race.

Debbie Spielberg, an Elrich campaign staffer, argued that because there was enough of a mark in Elrich’s oval and no marks anywhere else in that contest, the ballot should count for the incumbent. But Aaron Kraut, communications director for Blair’s campaign, said that the partially-filled circle did not show voter intent, and that the voter had clearly filled in bubbles in other races on the ballot.

Three board members — Amie Hoeber, David Naimon, and Elisse Barnes — voted the ballot as a yes for Elrich. Member Diane Nash Dillon voted no and board President Nahid Khozeimeh abstained from the vote.

Naimon said the ballot was “not as pristine” as board members would have liked, but that voter intent was clear. Dillon disagreed because the oval was not filled in clearly enough and other races were clearly filled in.

Most election workers concluded their review and counting of ballots around 6:50 p.m. on Friday. Counting resumes at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.