One of the local contests we have focused on here at DDHQ is the Mayoral election in my own Baltimore backyard. Incumbent Mayor Jack Young has already conceded the Democratic primary, failing to crack even the top three. Mary Miller is a very distant third and has been mathematically eliminated. That leaves just two candidates, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who ran and narrowly lost the 2016 Democratic primary (and failed in a write-in bid that November), and current City Council President Brandon Scott.
(For our full slate of Baltimore and Maryland school board and judicial primary results, visit the Baltimore Sun’s website)
Dixon led in the first tranche of results on election night last Tuesday, carrying the limited in-person vote and the mail-ins counted through May 30th by about 4600 votes. But as the mail-ins received after May 30th (but postmarked by the June 2nd deadline) have been counted, the tide has turned considerably. Scott now boasts a 1400 vote lead, a lead I feel is going to require extraordinary circumstances to collapse.
Currently there are approximately 1300 provisional ballots not-yet considered and somewhere between 4-5,000 mail-ins remaining to be counted (they should be tabulated by the city today). Sheila Dixon would need to in these by an improbable-but not impossible- margin, in a still-crowded field of candidates. Scott and Dixon combine for less than 60% of the mayoral vote, and other candidates have seen their tallies grow in the post-5/30 mail in counts.
If Brandon Scott’s lead grows further still after today’s final dump of mail-ins, it will be extraordinarily difficult for Dixon to overtake him.
She could challenge and demand a recount- one she would need to pay for barring a reversal of outcome (the State waives the cost to the challenger in the event the outcome changes or the t o candidates are separated by .1% of the vote). Recounts on a state-wide level, though, rarely see the margin move by more than a thousand votes (Florida saw this in 2000), and on a city-wide or county-wide one, it is unheard of. A four-figure lead simply won’t evaporate from “final unofficial count” to certification in a sub-state contest. The City’s Board of Elections could have tallying errors, a more likely scenario but damning of the process and officials involved. Such errors would become obvious in the recount. It would require a considerable error by election workers to see Dixon the eventual winner IF Scott’s lead remains or grows tonight.
Dixon may still decide the office is worth fighting for- after all, she ran a write-in campaign after narrowly losing the 2016 primary. The prospect of a write-in campaign by the loser aside, the winner of this Democratic primary would be considered practically Mayor-elect, as there is no Republican Party strength (or any other party for that matter) to make the general election remotely close.
While important in its own right, this primary election should serve as notice of what may come in November. Maryland conducted this primary election primarily by mail with in-person voting limited to a very few exceptions. It’s not a state with a long history of mail-in voting and there were a number of issues such as ballots not reaching voters in time and a proofing error leading to significant problems in once city council district. The volume of the mail-in votes has taxed the city’s ability to process the sheer number of ballots and has led to the delay in reaching a final outcome. We’re also seeing this in Pennsylvania, which has had limited absentee balloting until now. States such as Iowa, where voters are used to taking advantage of mail-in voting had a much smoother experience last week.
Decision Desk has been planning for these types of elections since the Covid-19 outbreak made it clear that voting would and vote counting would be significantly different in many places. We understand the work of collecting vote totals and reporting them to our clients and the public is not a one night effort this year.