Cecil County Votes: County Council, School Board Races, Charter Changes Top Election Issues; Mail-in Ballot Count to be Delayed

November 7, 2022

Cecil County voters go to the polls for in-person voting on Tuesday (11/8/2022) to decide three County Council races, three school board contests, and several county Charter proposed changes, but the final outcome of the voter decisions will not be known for more than a week. The local Board of Elections (BOE) will not even begin to count mail-in ballots until Thursday, two days after Election Day.

Complicating the election tally is the unusual presence of two write-in candidates for County Council who have gone through the official candidate registration process that will require the BOE to count and record their votes. Scanners will identify a marked oval for a write in candidate, but BOE staff will have to review the ballot to record the name, according to Doug Walker, the Cecil County BOE director.

Former County Council President Joyce Bowlsbey is running as a write-in candidate against political newcomer and Republican Rebecca Hamilton in District 2, which Bowlsbey represented as a Republican for six years before retiring from the post. Former County Commissioner Phyllis Kilby is running as an “unaffiliated” independent write-in candidate against Donna Culberson, a Republican who was appointed last year to fill a vacancy in District 4.

The write-in campaigns say there was at least one incident of a poll worker, during early in-person voting, making unsolicited and incorrect comments to a voter claiming that unless the name of a write in candidate was “spelled correctly” the entire ballot could be ruled invalid. Walker said he was aware of the incident, but could not identify which worker might have made such a statement, which he said was false and in violation of election law. State law provides that as long as the “intent” of the voter is clear, the write-in vote would be recorded. And even if there was a problem with one write-in name, it would NOT disqualify the rest of the ballot choices.

Meanwhile, the delayed count of mail in ballots will mean a far from complete picture of county voters’ decisions on Tuesday, when only in-person votes will be counted and disclosed. Nearly 7,000 mail-in ballots were requested and sent out to voters in Cecil County, according to state BOE data.

A majority–3,354 ballots–went to registered Democrats, while 2,398 ballots were requested by Republicans and 1,222 ballots were sent out to “unaffiliated” or minor party voters. A state appellate court ruled that local BOE’s could count mail-in ballots received before the in-person voting day, with results not disclosed until the close of in-person voting on Tuesday. Larger counties in the state decided to begin early counting but smaller counties, including Cecil, decided not to count mail in ballots until Thursday 11/10/22, with a final tally of mail-ins on 11/18/2022.

Republicans hold a significant registration advantage over Democrats in the county, with 31,961 registered voters versus 20,666 registered Democrats. “Unaffiliated” or independent voters have grown significantly in recent years, to 16,360. Including minor party registrants, the tally of all eligible “active” voters in the county totaled 70,327 people. (During the recently completed early voting period, people could register to vote in person and 42 new voters did so, but the state tally did not identify the party affiliations of those new registrants.)

Updated state figures for the mid-July party primary elections show that Cecil County had the lowest voter turnout in the entire state, with just 20.5 percent of eligible voters casting ballots. But unaffiliated voters had nothing but one non-partisan school board race in which they could cast a ballot, since they are barred from voting in a party primary; those non-partisan voters are likely to turn out in much more significant numbers in the general election.

At stake in the general election is control of the County Council, with Culberson and Hamilton aligned with Council Vice President Jackie Gregory (R-5) to create a majority aligned with, and campaign financed by, County Executive Danelle Hornberger (R) and her spouse, state Del. Kevin Hornberger (R. Gregory has already served notice that she plans to challenge current Council President Bob Meffley (R-1) for the top Council leadership position, which sets the agenda for the full five-member Council.

Also at stake is control of the county Board of Education, for which candidates run as “non-partisan” individuals. But in fact, this year three candidates—Renee Dixon, Justin Vest and Russ Johnson– are running with significant financial and political support from the Hornbergers and Rep. Andy Harris (R-1). [SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2022/11/andy-harris-gop-turn-nonpartisan-school-board-races-into-political-power-grab-false-claims-new-annapolis-pac-push-for-partisan-control-of-cecil-co-schools/ ]. Culberson has also injected herself into the school board contest, with unsubstantiated claims of improper curriculum and library materials forced on students without parental consent, as well as “racial” issues, expressed in dozens of emails to school officials.

County voters will also decide proposed changes to the county Charter, intended to correct or clarify issues that have occurred during Hornberger’s first two years as county executive. [SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2022/10/cecil-co-charter-changes-on-ballot-aim-to-fix-county-exec-issues-state-question-would-close-kevin-hornberger-residency-loophole/

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