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Mail-in ballot tally begins in Maryland, most counties still counting

 Baltimore County Board of Elections workers open mail-in ballots then feed into scanners to count votes.
John Lee
Baltimore County Board of Elections workers open mail-in ballots then feed into scanners to count votes.

Election officials across Maryland began counting mail-in ballots Thursday, but days of counting lie ahead and the winners of close races remain unknown.

Results from the first day of mail-in ballots show a tightening race in the Democratic primary for state’s attorney in Baltimore County. Meanwhile in Baltimore City, Ivan Bates’ lead over incumbent state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby in the Democratic primary is growing.

Baltimore city counted about 10,600 ballots on the first day out of roughly 24,900 ballots received by the city as of July 20.

In the city, Bates now has nearly a 10 percentage point lead over Mosby following the counting of about 10,600 mail-in ballots Thursday. On primary election night Bates had an 8-point lead.

After counting 6,600 mail-in votes, Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger is 308 votes behind challenger Robbie Leonard. On Tuesday after the polls closed, Leonard’s lead over Shellenberger was more than 800 votes.

There are still around 40,000 mail-in votes to count in the county.

Mail-in ballots across more rural counties were tallied on Thursday, such as Calvert, Dorchester, Garrett, Queen Anne’s, Worcester, and Somerset, according to the Maryland Board of Elections.

There were 499,633 mail-in ballots sent to voters statewide and 250,540 received by the state as of July 20.

The Baltimore County Board of Elections office had more than 46,000 mail-in ballots arrive by Thursday. More were still trickling in as any ballots postmarked by July 19 are eligible.

“We’re going to try to scan 6,000 to 8,000 a day,” said Ruie LaVoie, the county elections director.

LaVoie plans to certify Baltimore County’s election results by July 29, which according to the state board of elections is the last day ballots can be counted.

There were eight bipartisan teams of two workers sitting at tables in a nondescript room inside the county elections office on Thursday. Workers removed ballots from envelopes and did a visual inspection to ensure that either of the two scanners on site would accept the ballot successfully.

Andrew Bailey, the attorney for the county elections board, said those teams are looking for any obvious problems with the ballot.

Sometimes voters accidentally spill their morning coffee on their ballot at the kitchen table," Bailey said.

“If it’s clearly just a problem that would be with the thing physically being read through the scanner, the teams can remake that ballot themselves,” he said.

A different set of teams were going through the ballots that people received by email to fill out rather than through the mail. Those ballots can not be fed into a scanner.

“It’s on whatever paper they have at their house,” LaVoie said.

The teams copy the ballots and print them so they can be scanned, but the original ballot is saved in case any questions are raised.

LaVoie said the two person teams “are proofing each other.”

Throughout the count, observers, often candidates or campaign workers, are allowed to watch the process.

LaVoie said the mail in count will continue through the weekend.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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