Committee Vote Decides Commissioner Primary Winner

SNOW HILL — For the first time in Maryland, a Republican primary election, in this case for Worcester County’s District 4 Commission seat, ended in a tie and had to be decided by the county’s Republican Central Committee.

While not as dramatic as District 4’s historic tie-breaker, District 5 also saw the conclusion of a tight race this week, meaning that all of the county primaries have finally been decided.

With leading Republican candidates Ted Elder and Kathryn Danko-Lord deadlocked at 214 votes a piece, following a final count of primary ballots this week, the Worcester Republican Central Committee was tasked with choosing a winner and voted 7-2 to advance Elder to the General Election this fall.

After initial, unofficial results were published two weeks ago, it became apparent that District 4 was going to be a close call. Elder and Danko-Lord traded the lead as absentee and provisional ballots trickled in following the elections and were at one point tied at 210 votes before another count created a small gap. However, the final count had both at 214 votes, or 39.3 percent of their district’s vote.

According to a release from the Worcester Republican Central Committee, this kind of deadlock primary scenario for commission has never happened before in Maryland. The committee conferred with the State Elections Board and was told to make the final call among committee members. In an open meeting, the ballots were cast by the committee and then opened by the candidates with Elder taking the clear majority. It was an unexpected conclusion to a tough primary.

“It was like a rollercoaster ride that you can’t get off of this past week or so,” said Elder, who felt stuck in some limbo while waiting for the dust to settle.

Though he was selected by the committee by a wide margin, Elder commiserated with Danko-Lord because the uncertainty and final resolution was a stressful situation.

“I really feel for my opponent in it because I know exactly what she went through leading up to this,” Elder said, “and it’s got to be a really tough pill to swallow.”

Still, Elder was satisfied with the committee serving as the tie-breaker. The local central committees already have the authority to re-fill seats when Republican officials step down and Elder saw this as a related use of that power. He also felt that the committee was diligent and transparent in the process, which is vital since it has set a precedent for the rest of the state.

The committee didn’t really have much choice in how it operated either, noted District 5 Republican candidate Chip Bertino. The State Board of Elections instructed the committee to make a decision and it did, Bertino said, adding that both Elder and Danko-Lord took the surprising turn of events in stride.

“[Danko-Lord] handled it with class. They both did. It was a very difficult, unknown situation for the two of them, but when the votes were finally counted Monday night, Kathryn was a class act and she proved that after the results were announced,” Bertino said.

Bertino called it “a dramatic end to a dramatic race.” His own race for the District 5 primary was not as historic as District 4’s tie but still managed to be a nail-biter. Officially edging out fellow challenger Grant Helvey by a mere 12 votes, 333 to 321, Bertino will advance to the General Election in November to face Democrat Tom Wilson for the district’s open commission seat. Wilson was uncontested in last month’s primary.

District 4 and District 5 were the only two races that remained too close to call until this week. Now that the line-ups are clear, both Elder and Bertino have said that they are ready to hit the ground running.

This will be the third time that Elder has faced off against incumbent Virgil Shockley for a commission seat and Elder said this week that he’s looking forward to a re-match with gusto.

There is no incumbent in Bertino’s district with Commissioner Judy Boggs retiring after more than a decade in her seat. Bertino hopes to use her legacy as a starting point in his own commission career and plans on continuing some programs that Boggs started such as regular town hall meetings in Ocean Pines.

“What I want to ensure is that we continue on a fiscally conservative approach to government. I very much believe in small government,” said Bertino. “I’m going to continue, if elected, the town hall meetings that Commissioner Boggs started 12 years ago so that we can continue the give and take between District 5 and the commission.”

Elder also favors the small government approach and is especially wary of the amount of existing regulation in Worcester. After years as a business owner, he said that’s he’s seen economic growth suffer locally at times under what he considers onerous over-regulation.

“My biggest issue is over-regulation, especially businesses and opening them and even building homes or whatever, I think that we’ve gotten to a point where things are too restrictive,” said Elder.

Elder acknowledged that many of the regulations are not being implemented by the commissioners but are instead passed down from the state. However, if elected in November, Elder said that he would call on the commission to offer more resistance to state mandates.

Danko-Lord was unavailable for comment.