Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and challenger David Blair Credit: Submitted photos

County Executive Marc Elrich’s lead in his re-election bid in the Democratic primary against challenger David Blair shrank by 19 votes Wednesday night, as county election workers and canvassers concluded 10 days of counting and examining mail-in ballots at Montgomery College’s Germantown campus.

According to the State Board of Elections, Elrich has 51,883 votes (39.28% of ballots cast), while Blair has 51,729 votes (39.16%). That means Elrich leads by 154 votes, heading into the final days of counting and canvassing.

Kevin Karpinski, attorney for the county Board of Elections, told Bethesda Beat on Wednesday that canvassers have roughly about 4,000 mail-in ballots left to count, along with the provisional ballots. No ballots will be counted Thursday. On Friday, canvassers will begin counting the provisional ballots and also continue tallying the remaining mail-in ballots. Gilberto Zelaya, spokesman for the county elections board, said earlier this week there are roughly 7,250 provisional ballots to canvass. 

Elections workers and canvassers hope to conclude their work by 6 p.m. Saturday, Karpinski said. Alysoun McLaughlin, the county’s acting election director, has said she expects most mail-in and provisional ballots will be canvassed and scanned this week, with a goal of certifying the results by Aug. 12. Once the election results have been certified by the county elections board, candidates have three days to request a recount.

Under Maryland law, if results of the winning and second-place candidates are within .25% or less, the recount is free to the candidate who requests it. Even though Elrich is currently in the lead, he said in a news briefing Wednesday he would request a recount if Blair beat him within that margin.

The close 2022 Democratic primary is a repeat of the 2018 primary in which Elrich beat Blair by 77 votes to win his first term. In 2018, Elrich, a longtime political figure who has used the county’s public financing system in both 2018 and 2022, also had to wait days before learning whether he had beaten Blair, a businessman from Potomac who has spent millions of dollars of his own money to finance both attempts to win the Democratic nomination for the county’s top political office.

County Council Member at-large Hans Riemer, the other major candidate in this year’s Democratic race for executive, conceded a day after the polls closed July 19. Wednesday’s count put him at 26,246 votes (19.87%). Peter James, a tech CEO, is in fourth place with 2,242 votes (1.7%).

The primary winner will face Reardon Sullivan, former chair of the county’s Republican Central Committee, in the general election in November. With Democrats outnumbering Republicans by about 4 to 1 in voter registration in the county, either Democrat would be the favorite to beat Sullivan in the general election.

This year’s election has been a see-saw between Elrich and Blair. After early voting and Election Day, Blair led by about 1,100 votes. But when counting of mail-in ballots began July 21, Elrich cut into the lead, and jumped on top a day later.

Last weekend’s updates showed Blair cutting into Elrich’s slim lead, and results released mid-day July 25 had him just 141 votes behind Elrich. By the time more results were released that night, Blair had regained the lead by 134 votes. That lead grew by 11 votes after Wednesday’s tabulations, but decreased by 14 votes after Friday’s count, resulting in a 131-vote margin before Saturday’s count – which cut it down to 21 votes.