[Baltimore Sun] Baltimore mail-in ballot counting inches forward, wait continues for city council hopefuls

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The wait continues for several Baltimore City Council hopefuls this week as mail-in ballot counting inches forward in the city.

As of Monday night, the city still had about 8,300 mail-in ballots left to be counted, according to state records. The vast majority, about 8,100, were cast by Democrats in the overwhelmingly Democratic city. The Democratic primary typically determines the eventual winners of races in Baltimore.

That 8,300 ballot figure does not include the roughly 6,300 provisional ballots cast by voters at city polling places which will be considered by the Baltimore City Board of Elections beginning Wednesday. Voters are asked to cast a provisional ballot when there are questions about their residency or eligibility to vote.

Armstead Jones, the city’s election director, said he does not expect to complete the provisional ballot count Wednesday due to the quantity received.

Hanging in the balance are several tight races for City Council separated by thin margins.

The contest for Baltimore’s District 11 City Council seat has remained the tightest matchup since the first results were released on election night. Returns that night showed Councilman Eric Costello had a 25-vote lead over challenger Zac Blanchard. On Thursday, that margin appeared to shrink to 17 votes, but city elections officials also corrected an overreporting error from Election Day on Thursday night which gave Costello an 87-vote lead.

After a full day of mail-in ballot counting Monday, returns showed Costello with a 104-vote lead — 50.9% to Blanchard’s 49.1%. More than 5,900 votes have been counted so far from District 11 voters. The district covers the Baltimore Peninsula in South Baltimore and the Inner Harbor, and runs north to Bolton Hill.

The City Council’s District 8 seat also remains a close race. With adjusted Election Day totals, Paris Gray, a District 8 council liaison, led former state Del. Bilal Ali by 142 votes. That lead expanded to 148 votes on Monday. The West Baltimore district is currently represented by Councilman Kristerfer Burnett. Burnett announced last summer he would not seek reelection and named Gray as his chosen successor. More than 5,700 votes have been counted from District 8 voters.

Jermaine Jones, a labor union official, challenging Councilman Robert Stokes for his District 12 seat, also expanded his lead with Monday’s counting. As of Monday night, he led the race by 249 votes, or 52.9%.

The challenge from Jones is the closest race Stokes has faced in the eight years he’s represented his Central and East Baltimore district. He narrowly won his first term in 2016, topping a field of seven Democrats and beat back a well-funded challenger in 2020.

While Baltimore counted around 15,000 ballots on Thursday, counting has been slowed this week by the processing of email-delivered ballots. Recipients of email-delivered ballots must print out their ballot and return it via mail or to a ballot drop box. Because the ballots are printed on standard-sized printer paper, they do not fit in the city’s ballot scanning machines. They must first be hand-duplicated by teams of election staffers before they can be counted.

City officials said last week that they received several thousand email ballots. The recreation of email ballots began Monday and has continued on Tuesday, said Deputy Election Director Abigail Goldman.

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