1st Congressional District race remains in dispute
Gap narrows as absentee ballots are counted
Physician John LaFerla of Chestertown and Cockeysville businesswoman Wendy Rosen, rivals for the Democratic nomination for the 1st congressional district in Maryland. (Handout photos / April 5, 2012)
In the only still-undecided race from Tuesday's statewide primary, Cockeysville businesswoman Wendy Rosen had an 86-vote lead over physician John LaFerla of Chestertown, out of more than 25,000 ballots cast. Rosen has declared victory, but LaFerla has said the race remains too close for him to concede.
The district includes portions of Carroll, Baltimore and Harford counties, as well as the Eastern Shore.
On Thursday, election officials began counting 1,196 absentee ballots that had been received by Election Day. Additional absentee ballots received after the election and provisional ballots — which are cast by voters who are not identified on registration rolls on Election Day — will be counted next week.
"The votes have not been counted, and it's too close to call," LaFerla said in an interview. "Why would anybody claim victory with this narrow a margin? It's not over until it's over."
Daniel Ford, Rosen's campaign manager, said his camp doesn't believe there are enough outstanding ballots remaining for LaFerla to take the lead, assuming those votes continue to break roughly the way they have so far.
"At this point," Ford said, "the important thing is for all Democrats to get together and look forward to November."
No matter who wins the primary, incumbent Republican Rep. Andy Harris is considered safe for re-election in the Nov. 6 general election. Harris unseated former Rep. Frank Kratovil, a Democrat, by a 12-point margin in the 2010 election. And the district became more Republican after last year's redistricting.
Registered Republicans now outnumber Democrats in the district by 9 percentage points.
Democratic voters in the district were also the least likely in Maryland to support President Barack Obama's nomination for president, even though he ran unopposed. Twenty-six percent of Democrats were uncommitted in the district, compared with 12 percent statewide.
Rosen, who was endorsed by neighboring Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, won Baltimore, Cecil and Dorchester counties. LaFerla, who was supported by former Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, a centrist Republican, won Kent and Queen Anne's counties. The two candidates split Harford County.
There is no automatic recount provision in Maryland; a losing candidate must request one. Taxpayers pick up the cost of that effort if the margin separating the candidates is one-tenth of 1 percent of the total votes cast or less. Though the race is close, the margin now is larger than that: about one-third of 1 percent.
Asked about the possibility of a recount, LaFerla said it would probably be unnecessary because the state uses electronic voting machines that are more accurate than other methods. He said his campaign is focused instead on provisional ballots, which must be reviewed individually to determine whether the voter was eligible to cast a ballot.
State election officials could not say how many provisional ballots had been cast in the race. LaFerla said he expected the number to be in the "hundreds."
A third candidate, Kim Letke, received 14 percent of the vote.