Initial Tally in Cecil Co GOP Primary Strongly Favors Hornberger for County Exec, Gregory for Council; More Votes to be Counted

June 2, 2020

In the first-ever, mostly mail-in primary election in Cecil County history, political novice Danielle Hornberger held a compelling lead over incumbent Alan McCarthy for County Executive in the Republican primary, while incumbent Jackie Gregory was solidly ahead in the contested GOP primary for County Council in District 5, according to early returns from the county’s Board of Elections (BOE) issued late on Tuesday evening (6/2/2020).

There are still three local Board of Elections canvassing meetings scheduled to count votes, including a session on Wednesday 6/3/2020, before the official voting tally is confirmed. Tomorrow’s session will likely continue to count mailed-in ballots that were received in the past few days, when advance counting stopped as BOE officials prepared to conduct the live, in-person voting session in Elkton that was held on Tuesday.

But the initial tally of mailed-in ballots, not including in-person voting on Tuesday, showed Hornberger with a commanding lead, with 4,909 votes to McCarthy’s 2,019 votes. Another contender, Ewing McDowell—an agribusinessman and state Commerce official—held third place, with 669 votes. Bill Coutz, a two-year member of the Cecil County Council, trailed well behind the pack, with 624 votes.

While the outcome was far from official, the preliminary margin for Hornberger made it likely that she would prevail in the final tally over incumbent County Executive McCarthy, who is a licensed veterinarian and served four years as a member of the Cecil County Council before being elected as County Executive four years ago. On his watch as the Executive, over 4,000 new jobs were created in the county and the county had its first fully balanced budgets in over two decades, while two new schools were built or under construction for the first time in 30 years.

Challenger Danielle Hornberger is the wife of state Del. Kevin Hornberger (R-35) and a part-time local aide to US Rep. Andy Harris (R-1), who has bankrolled both her and her husband’s political campaigns. Mrs. Hornberger has never held a substantive or management-related full-time job. Her platform consisted of pledging allegiance to President Trump and Harris, and promising to “rollback” county property taxes but without saying what local programs she would cut to fulfill her promises.

In the contested District 5 County Council race, incumbent Jackie Gregory was challenged by local businessman and county parks board leader and sports teams coach Don Harmer. Gregory was recently cited by the county Ethics Commission for violations of ethics rules and forced to step down from her dual employment as a substitute county teacher while also voting on school budget matters as a Council official. [SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here: ]

Gregory ran as a team-mate with Hornberger and Harris, who donated to her campaign and provided free mailers to tout her and Hornberger’s candidacy, paid for by his own federal campaign account but not reflected, as required, on state campaign finance filings as “in kind” donations of political services.

The Tuesday primary election was highly unusual in many ways, with most votes cast by mail and limited in-person voting at just one location in the county.

While all registered, major political party-affiliated voters in the county were sent vote by mail ballots under Gov. Larry Hogan’s order to conduct the primary mostly by mail due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic, there were still limited in-person voting options for disabled people, those who did not receive a mail ballot or who were adamant that they wanted to vote in person. In Cecil County, the only in-person voting site was at the county administration building in Elkton, instead of the usual 19 polling places spread throughout local neighborhoods in the county.

As of mid-afternoon on Tuesday, there were 427 Republicans and 95 Democrats who showed up to vote in person in Elkton, the county BOE reported. The full live vote tally was not yet available late Tuesday night.

Despite the initial tally of so-far counted mail ballots and the relatively small number of in-person voters, there were still many more voters to be heard from: a total of 29,571 ballots were mailed out to Republicans and 20,865 ballots were mailed out to Democrats in Cecil County—for a combined total of 50,436 ballots mailed to primary voters.

A spreadsheet compiled by the state Board of Elections showed that as of Tuesday morning, a total of 13,568 mailed ballots had been returned to the Cecil County BOE office. Republicans, who hold a slim majority of overall county voter registrations, returned 8,401 mailed ballots to be counted while Democrats returned 5,167 ballots.

In addition, 148 absentee ballots were returned by Republicans while 307 Democrats returned absentee ballots. Some voters who were expecting to be out of town for the election could have filed in advance for an absentee ballot while some local residents, uncertain of how the primary would be conducted and unwilling to appear in person at a polling place due to the COVID-19 virus, could have sought an absentee ballot before it was finally announced that the election would be primarily conducted by mailed ballots sent to their homes.

Local Cecil County BOE officials issued a report Tuesday afternoon that combined the mailed out and absentee ballots, but were off by 1 vote from the official state BOE count of mailed and returned plus absentee voter returned ballots.

“Unaffiliated” or independent voters did not receive mail ballots since there were no non-partisan contests, such as a judgeship, at stake. Unaffiliated voters will get to vote in the November general election for school board seats and for County Executive, the only race in which a Democratic candidate has filed to run against the winner of the Republican primary. However, there could also be independent or write-in candidacies in the November election.

However, at least 39 unaffiliated voters turned up at the in person voting place on Tuesday and 7 members of “other” parties not on the ballot did so, and their ballots were classified as “provisional” and subject to challenge. They will likely be ruled invalid when provisional ballots are reviewed on 6/10/2020.

In the Democratic primary, Jeff Kase was unopposed in his run for County Executive and will be on the November ballot. Kase, 55, is a resident of the Childs area in the county and works as a programmer for a Delaware firm. He holds an associate’s degree in electrical engineering from Delaware Tech.

Incumbent County Council member Bob Meffley (R-1) was unopposed in the Republican primary for re-election to his seat and no Democrat has filed to run against him in the general election.

The winner of the Republican primary for County Council from District 5 is so far unopposed by a Democrat in the general election, but there could be independent or write-in challengers emerging before November.

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