The outcome of two extremely close races in Baltimore will hinge on absentee ballots due to be counted today at the city election board.
With 257 absentee ballots to be counted in the 43rd Legislative District Democratic primary, Martin O'Malley, a former city prosecutor, holds a slim 35-vote lead over incumbent state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., according to the unofficial tally.
In the citywide Baltimore Circuit Court judgeship contest, District Court Judge Paul A. Smith, who is challenging three incumbents, has a mere 11-vote lead for the second spot in the Democratic primary. There are 2,121 absentee ballots citywide yet to be counted.
Barbara E. Jackson, administrator of the Baltimore Board of Supervisors of Elections, said yesterday that officials will first count the absentee ballots in the Pica-O'Malley race then move on to the judgeship contest.
Absentee ballots are usually cast by senior citizens confined to nursing homes, people away on vacation or business, or those serving in the military or away at college. But the biggest group that casts absentee ballots is the election judges who man the polling places on election day.
Since election judges work all day on election day, they vote by absentee ballot unless they happen to be assigned to their voting precinct.
In the 43rd, there were 147 election judges, more than half the total of absentee ballots. Their votes could make a winner of Pica because the district's senator appoints the election judges.
But O'Malley's campaign officials said they mailed campaign literature to each one of the absentee voters and that, the candidate said, made him guardedly optimistic.
NTC "I'll take a victory with absentee ballots just as well as a victory tonight," O'Malley said late on election night.
O'Malley said he was disappointed not to have won the election outright "after all the energy I and all my supporters put into the campaign, but I feel good about my chances."
Pica also said he was hopeful of victory even though the race ended up much closer than expected.
"I congratulate Martin on running a hard-fought, well run campaign," said Pica. "But I look forward to the absentee ballots to send me back to the Senate."
In the city judgeship race, Judge Ellen L. Hollander finished first in the Democratic primary with 39,672 votes, according to the unofficial tally. Smith came in second with 29,194 votes and Judge Richard T. Rombro finished third, only 11 votes behind Smith.
Judge John C. Themelis ran fourth with 28,987 votes, meaning 207 votes separated him from Smith.
In the Republican primary, Hollander also came in first with 2,726 votes, Rombro second with 2,325, Themelis third with 2,090 and Smith fourth with 1,619 votes.
The remaining candidate, attorney Frederick K. Charleston Sr., finished a distant fifth in both primaries.
Judges run without regard to party affiliation and appear in both primaries. In this election with three seats at stake, if a challenger finishes in one of the top three spots in either primary, the challenger and the incumbents move on to the November general election.
If the present standings hold firm after the absentee ballots are counted, Hollander, Smith and Rombro advance to the general election based on their finish in the Democratic primary and Themelis advances by finishing third in the GOP primary.
Should Smith slip to fourth in the Democratic primary after the count, then the three incumbents would win and the race is ended.
Smith said yesterday that he felt good about the election results so far and "we will be in the general after the absentee count is over." He said he and his campaign staff are planning their strategy for the general election campaign.
Themelis said waiting for the outcome of the count of absentee ballots is not easy, but after "dedicating the last six years being the best judge I could be to all of the citizens of the city, now I can only wait and see how the citizens responded to my dedication."