The county's Board of Elections reviews a ballot on Aug. 19. Kevin Karpinski, the board's attorney (left), oversees the deliberations. Credit: Steve Bohnel

This story was updated at 2:40 p.m. Aug. 20, 2022, to include comment from both campaigns. It was updated at 3:15 p.m. to include more details about why the recount of early ballots was conducted.

Election workers are conducting another count of ballots from multiple early voting centers as the recount of the Democratic primary for Montgomery County executive continues, the county’s Board of Elections announced Saturday morning. 

At the end of Friday’s ballot counting on the first day of the recount, challenger David Blair — who had requested a recount of all paper ballots —had appeared to gain four votes. County Executive Marc Elrich, who beat Blair by 35 votes in the July 19 primary according to certified results, appeared to lose four votes.

But Kevin Karpinski, the elections board’s attorney, said in his opening remarks Saturday at the Germantown Community Center that it was possible that elections workers may have made mistakes during the first day of the recount. Election workers could have been placing ballots into the wrong category on their respective tables, he said.

There are different sections for different votes that are divided by blue tape on those tables — for Blair, Elrich, another candidate, no candidates, or an overvote (a vote for two or more candidates, which means the ballot doesn’t count).

In total, more than 20,000 ballots from early voting were reviewed Friday, according to officials. 

“I’m not being critical of anyone because you guys are working very hard and very diligently,” Karpinski said to election workers. “[It’s that] a ballot for a candidate was placed in the wrong pile, and so when you did your math, your math is different than the math” of those who are checking and tabulating recount results into a spreadsheet. 

“So we need to make sure we’re very, very careful in doing that,” Karpinski said.

Aaron Kraut, communications director for Blair’s campaign, declined to comment Saturday on the decision to recount some early voting ballots.

Teresa Woorman, Elrich’s campaign manager, said of the decision: “I’m glad they were able to catch it, and I’m really glad the Board [of Elections] did its due diligence.”

Woorman added that while the process has “a lot of room for human error,” the campaign is not questioning the integrity of the count.

Janet Ross, acting deputy director for the Board of Elections, was tasked with reviewing the overall count and examining the spreadsheet and numbers Friday night. Ross told Bethesda Beat on Saturday that election workers were recounting 9,424 early voting ballots, across four early voting centers.

The mistake, Ross said, was not elections workers’ math, but the fact that some Elrich votes were put into the Blair section on the workers’ tables, and Blair votes were put into Elrich’s spot.

“The arithmetic was fine, because everything totaled up [correctly]. It was just people getting tired,” Ross said, referencing the monotonous process of categorizing ballots.

Karpinski also said during his remarks Saturday morning that the results of the recount of early voting ballots show that there were more “no” votes (meaning no candidate was selected) and less “other” votes (a vote for Hans Riemer or Peter James, the other two candidates in the race). There could also have been mistakes in those tabulations, Karpinski said.

“My speculation is that … Blair [and] Elrich, they’re right there at the very top of the race, so you go ahead [and look] at [whether] it’s a vote for Blair, or a vote for Elrich, and you don’t necessarily go down the entire race and you put it in the ‘none’ category as opposed to the ‘other’ category,” Karpinski said.  

Not only could “other” votes have been missed, but overvotes — a ballot where a voter chose more than one candidate, which disqualifies the vote in that race — could also have been missed, Karpinski said. 

Karpinski, Ross and Gilberto Zelaya, a board spokesman, all told Bethesda Beat that catching mistakes like the ones that may have occurred Friday are vital to an accurate count.

“We’re more interested in precision than speed,” said Zelaya, who was double-checking the work of those counting on Saturday. “And that’s really the big picture … we’re making sure that everything adds up appropriately, and that the will of the people is accounted for.”

More than 140,000 votes will be reviewed during the recount. The recount continues through 7 p.m. Saturday and then continues Sunday.