Board of Election workers from Anne Arundel County review ballots in the county executive race on Friday. Credit: Steve Bohnel

On Friday morning at the Germantown Community Center, residents playing table tennis smacked ping pong balls toward their opponents in a game room while, less than 20 steps away, more than 40 tables were assembled in rows across a basketball court. 

The much-anticipated recount of the Democratic primary for Montgomery County executive was getting underway.

Under the supervision of the county Board of Elections, workers from Montgomery, Harford and Anne Arundel counties, the State Board of Elections and other jurisdictions were removing paper ballots from yellow folders in order to review the choices for that race.

Friday morning marked the beginning of a recount in the county executive contest, one requested by David Blair, a businessman who lost the Democratic primary to County Executive Marc Elrich by 35 votes. Friday also marked one month since Election Day on July 19 — and the start of a lengthy ballot-counting process that has left the candidates as well as voters in a holding pattern as they await the final results. 

County election officials are expected to post if there was is a change in the vote count margin between Elrich and Blair at the end of each day of the recount, according to Kevin Karpinski, the elections board’s attorney. He and other election officials were hopeful they also would be able to provide the number of ballots that had been reviewed and processed.

There were over 140,000 ballots cast in the county executive race on July 19. County election officials have asked workers from the county, outside jurisdictions and the State Board of Elections for three days of time to complete the recount, but it wasn’t immediately clear how long the process would take.

Before the recount began, election officials had set up the gymnasium for dozens of workers to count the ballots. Video cameras were positioned atop laptop screens in three corners of the room, helping to provide a bird’s eye view of the proceedings. 

Campaign workers for Elrich and Blair could be seen conferring on strategy for observing the recount on Friday and the days ahead, as election workers wheeled in blue bins of ballots, labeled by ballot type: early voting, Election Day, mail-in, provisional and other ballots. 

At just before 10 a.m., members of the county elections board introduced themselves to the people tasked with counting the ballots and thanked them for their service. Karpinski then administered an oath to the workers, which stated they would follow the state constitution when fulfilling their duties.

Then Karpinski fulfilled one of his most important duties of the day — issuing instructions for the recount. Teams of two were tasked with reviewing ballots coming from yellow folders with “packs,” which contained up to 10 ballots each.

After reviewing the ballots, the team members were to place them into different sections divided by blue tape on their tables — with sections identified as for Blair, Elrich, another candidate, no candidates, or an overvote (vote for two or more candidates, which means the ballot doesn’t count). 

Karpinski told election workers to focus solely on the county executive race. “The other races are of no importance to today’s process,” he added.

He also emphasized that election workers should consult with the elections board if they couldn’t determine into which section a ballot should be placed. 

“If you have any doubt whatsoever, err on the side of caution and refer [it] to the board for consideration,” Karpinski said. “If you have any disagreement at all, it’s a board referral.”

By around 11:30 a.m., elections workers had completed sorting all of the early voting ballots, Karpinski announced — roughly 20,300. By lunchtime — around 12:30 p.m. — workers were reviewing ballots cast on Election Day.

The recount continues through 7 p.m. Friday.