Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger and challenger Robbie Leonard are separated by about 1,930 votes in the Democratic primary to be the county’s chief prosecutor after counting ended Wednesday — with just a few thousand ballots left to count.
Shellenberger, 63, remains on track to secure the Democratic nomination for chief prosecutor after Wednesday’s ballot canvass extended his margin over Leonard, an attorney and Shellenberger’s first primary opponent in 16 years.
The four-term incumbent gained just a fraction of a percentage point lead over Leonard, who’s also secretary of the Maryland Democratic Party, after some 8,000 ballots were canvassed Wednesday.
Leonard would need more than 80% of the remaining 3,000 votes to rebound. Canvassers will finish their count, which includes ballots cast by provisional voters, on Friday.
The winner is expected to face Republican James A. Haynes, 72, a former federal labor department administrative judge, in the general election.
Election results are scheduled to be certified July 29, although some Maryland races may not be decided until August, elections officials have warned. County canvassers had received more than 49,000 mailed ballots as of Tuesday evening — another roughly 22,000 ballots requested by county voters are unreturned. Friday’s count will include provisional ballots.
Shellenberger, who has said he’s waiting to comment until results are “official and final,” could not be reached Wednesday.
While mailed ballots have trended in the incumbent’s favor, provisional ballot counts have tilted in Leonard’s favor. Provisional ballots will make up a significant portion of the votes counted Friday, according to elections officials.
As canvassers process ballots, Leonard said he’s received messages from his advocates eager to tell him they’ve been notified that their ballots have been cast.
“There’s one more day of counting ballots on Friday,” Leonard said. “And so many of my supporters continue to be excited each day when they get a notification their vote has been counted.”
Leonard said he won’t make any announcements about his campaign until the final votes are tallied. To do so would deny voters an opportunity “to make sure their votes counted,” he said.
The neck-and-neck race has put the county’s longtime “tough on crime” prosecutor on defense as he seeks a fifth term while the race has been marked by disagreement about what crimes the office should prioritize. Leonard, 40, a former public defender who wants to divert low-level, nonviolent cases from county courts, has criticized Shellenberger’s handling of sexual assault cases, prosecution of juveniles and his reluctance to charge police officers who fatally shoot civilians.
Shellenberger, who describes himself as “politically independent” — while Leonard, he said, is immersed in party politics — has relied on his experience throughout his campaign. He touts his efforts building his office to more than 60 prosecutors after he worked under former Republican State’s Attorney Sandra A. O’Connor for 11 years, including as head of the office’s sexual assault and child abuse unit. He was elected as chief prosecutor in 2006 when O’Connor, who held the position for three decades, stepped down.
Votes tallied July 19 placed Leonard in the front-running spot before mailed ballots counted over the weekend put Shellenberger ahead. Tuesday’s canvass trimmed the incumbent’s lead by a few hundred votes before Shellenberger inched further ahead Wednesday.