ELKTON — Using a chair inside Maryland Beer Co. as her stage, Cecil County Executive-elect Danielle Hornberger thanked the crowd of supporters gathered with her.
“We did it!,” she exclaimed to a round of applause.
Hornberger held a 32-point lead over her opponent, Democrat Jeff Kase, as results came in Tuesday night. While a few thousand mail-in ballots have yet to be counted, the unofficial returns from some mail-in ballots as well as early and Election Day voting show Hornberger with 26,363 votes, while Kase netted 13,574.
Hornberger said she would continue to do what propelled her to the office including listening to what residents want in their county.
State Sen. Jason Gallion (R-Dist 35) pledged that the state delegation from Harford and Cecil Counties would work with her from Annapolis.
“This is a great night for Cecil County,” Gallion said. “You’ll have the support of the Maryland General Assembly.”
He then pointed to her husband, Del. Kevin Hornberger (R-Dist 35A), and added, “And I know you know the delegate.”
State Del. Mike Griffith (R-Dist 35B) admired Hornberger’s tenacity in an election that saw her under attack from her primary opponent, outgoing County Executive Alan McCarthy, who filed a lawsuit alleging that she failed to submit a financial disclosure form on time. A judge dismissed McCarthy’s request to remove Hornerbger from the general election ballot.
“When there are lots of arrows flying, I never saw her sweat,” Griffith said.
Griffith also connected the Hornberger supporters with the Harford County GOP contingent via FaceTime. Holding his phone aloft so those gathered inside the Elkton brew pub could see, State Del. Teresa Reilly (R-Dist 35B) congratulated Hornberger. Upon mentioning the other Republican wins of the day, the group launched into a chant of “USA! USA!”
In an election upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hornberger said that listening to the challenges facing small business owners helped her gauge the needs of communities across the county. In an interview with The Whig during the campaign, she added that meeting with constituents on the ground helped her build the grassroots support needed for a convincing win.
In a video posted to Facebook, Hornberger thanked her supporters for joining the journey of her campaign. She asked for patience and understanding as she gets to work on day one tackling the health and economic uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As we celebrate victory tonight, I stand here truly humbled before you, so grateful and awe-struck by your overwhelming confidence in me,” she said. “As I stand here now, I pledge to you, the people of Cecil County, that I will work for every resident, that I will roll up my sleeves and be the hardest-working county executive you have ever seen.”
For his part, Kase held out hope through election night, saying in an interview after the first round of results were released that he anticipated outstanding mail-in ballots to break in his favor. However, he conceded Wednesday as Hornberger’s lead grew, thanking supporters in a Facebook post.
“We ran a spirited campaign based on integrity and honesty. I cannot begin to express my gratitude for all of the support and hard work that was put in on my behalf,” he wrote. “We didn’t win, but we should all be proud of the fight we put up.”
Cecil County Councilman Bill Coutz joined Hornberger’s Election Night celebration at Maryland Beer Co., and assured her that she had his support.
“I know you’ll do what’s best for all of Cecil County,” Coutz said.
Vote returns are as of press time Thursday. For updated returns, please check cecildaily.com.
ELKTON — Polls closed at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, but counting votes was far from over for Cecil County’s election officials. Processing the numbers from Election Day alone kept them up until the early hours of Wednesday morning. And the work didn’t stop there.
Over 16,500 voters cast ballots on election day, but that’s just shy of 40 percent of the more than 42,000 ballots cast in Cecil County. Almost 16,000 voters opted for early in-person voting and at least 10,000 more ballots came in by mail and drop-box, 7,200 of which were tallied up before in-person voting began.
Mail-in ballots received during in-person voting began went straight into sealed containers, and election officials gathered bright and early Thursday morning at the Cecil County administration building to begin tabulating the outstanding mail-in ballots.
They counted another 2,000 before lunch.
“I’ve voted for years, but I just walked in, clicked the lever, walked out and thought, ‘Okay, it’s done,’” said Elaine McQuaide, a county election judge. “But since I’ve seen this — it’s just amazing. And I tell people, I don’t ever want to hear you say your vote did not count. It was counted several times.”
Counting every ballot
Amid heightened political tensions and false claims from President Donald Trump that mail-in ballots are riddled with fraud, election officials have set to work doing what they do every year — ensuring that the rigorous process of counting, re-counting, verifying and auditing ballots proceeds smoothly.
Mail-in ballots are bundled in stacks of 25 and unsealed by election officials when they are ready to be counted. Bipartisan teams — one Democrat and one Republican — unseal and inspect each ballot, checking signatures to ensure each one is legitimate and ensuring that the vote is clear, with one candidate from each race selected.
Elections Director Ruie Lavoie explained that mail-in ballots occasionally contain mistakes that the vote scanning machines will not be able to process — two candidates from the same race selected, for example. In these cases, the ballots are held for inspection by election judges, who will correct the mistakes if the intent of the voter is clear.
From the 2,000 ballots counted Thursday morning, only two had an issue — in one instance, the voter had filled in the bubble for former Vice President Joe Biden but placed a check mark beside President Donald Trump.
“The board might decide to mark it an over-vote, and nothing on that contest counts. But that’s not for us to decide,” Lavoie said. “When they’re opening, the bipartisan team reviews the ballot for anything weird like that? And if it’s strange, it goes to the board.”
After the bi-partisan teams review each ballot, they count again to ensure they have 25 ballots and 25 envelopes. If the numbers add up, they pass the ballots along to election officials, who run the ballots through voting machines, counting each one to ensure they process all 25 without missing a single vote.
“If it doesn’t match up, you have to start all over,” McQuaide said. “It’s a check and balance all the way through, from the time they come through the door to the time they scan through the machine.”
The elections officials are volunteers who undergo mandatory training and are paid for their time through the county budget. During early voting, Election Day and throughout the count of remaining mail-in ballots, election watchers oversee the process, which is also live streamed on the county’s election site so that anyone can tune in. After they’re scanned, the ballots are returned to sealed containers.
Every voter counts
Lavoie said that county election officials take the greatest care to make sure every vote counts.
If voters show up to the polls but previously requested a mail-in ballot, they receive a provisional ballot, which is only counted when officials verify that the voter is not trying to submit two ballots (this is against the law and leads to neither ballot counting).
Drop-box ballots were collected promptly, the rooms where ballots are stored are sealed with tamper-tape, and the process of counting is live streamed. In one instance at Elkton High School, a poll worker woke up a voter who had fallen asleep waiting in their car to make sure they got in line before the polls closed.
The county also spent $70,000 on postcards informing voters that typical precinct polling places would be closed due to COVID-19. Across the state, the elections were held in high schools with large gyms which could accommodate socially-distanced crowds.
The county spent an additional $70,000 on sample ballots, so voters would know what to expect when they prepare to cast their vote. A handful of voters mistakenly submitted sample ballots, in which cases election officials called those voters and asked them to come to a polling place to transfer their vote to a legitimate ballot in person.
The audits and — finally — the results
Lavoie explained that the county and statewide results go through a number of audits, requiring election officials to verify the numbers.
The audit process is also rigorous — first, independent election auditor Clear Ballot conducts an independent audit of all the ballots counted up to and including Election Day. On Wednesday, Lavoie and her team sent images of every ballot to Clear Ballot who will return their results for a precinct-level comparison to ensure no votes are missing.
Next up is a state-mandated internal audit, where the county’s election officials check 25 percent of ballots, verifying that the number of voters who were checked in at polling places matches the number of ballots processed by scanners. The audited polling places are selected randomly, but if any have a discrepancy of five or more ballots, they are also required to undergo audit.
Lavoie said that a discrepancy may come if a voter checked in but decided not to wait in line, among other examples.
“Of course, we don’t want any discrepancies, but the state makes us figure out — if there are any, why?” she explained. “We submit a report to the state, and then they audit our audit.”
For Lavoie, the deadline is Nov. 13. The day before, Nov. 12, is when the final provisional ballots are processed and the audits should all be wrapped up. This is also the last day to receive mail-in ballots postmarked by Nov. 3.
She said that while larger counties grappling with procedural adjustments due to the COVID-19 pandemic may need more time, she believes Cecil County is on track to meet the Nov. 13 deadline, which is typically when the results become certified.
For Lavoie, the rigor of the process eliminates the possibility of voter fraud.
“I really don’t see how it could happen,” she said. “I’ve been working in Maryland elections for a lot of years in several jurisdictions, and everybody, every election director that I know across the state, as well as all of the people from the state board — everything we do is to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
So while the outcomes of several key local races are clear at this point based on sizable leads for one candidate or another, ballot returns are still unofficial until they have been certified by the state. With a few thousand mail-in ballots left to count, Lavoie and her team are hard at work.
“I appreciate everybody’s patience. I know they’re waiting for these results. But unfortunately, there’s a process and it’s all regulated by Maryland law,” Lavoie said. “We just need to get through the process.”
RISING SUN — Police have filed an assault charge against a woman who allegedly attacked her mother last week — an incident that led to the seizure of 45 animals “found living in neglectful conditions” inside the suspect’s downtown Rising Sun residence, according to Cecil County District Court records.
Rising Sun Police Department investigators charged the suspect, Crystal Lorrain Romine, 38, with second-degree assault, a misdemeanor that is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and served her an arrest warrant on Friday, court records show.
Scheduled for a Jan. 20 trial, Romine is free on personal recognizance, according to court records.
As of Thursday, however, no charges had been filed in connection with the 45 animals that officers with the Animal Welfare Division of Cecil County Animal Services seized from Romine’s residence in the unit block of South Queen Street on Oct. 26.
Investigators reported that Romine had been living with those animals at that 10 S. Queen St. address, where she had operated a storefront pet shop and her Eden Rehab and Rescue, an animal welfare non-profit.
Specifically, the confiscated animals included 17 cats, three dogs, three snakes, one guinea pig, two turtles, one tarantula, two birds, 13 goldfish, and three beta fish, according to Cecil County Government spokeswoman Jennifer Lyall, who further reported that CCAS agents also removed two dead animals from the place.
“The animals were found to be kept in deplorable conditions, including limited access to fresh food and water,” Lyall said.
The agents transported the seized animals to CCAC’s headquarters near Chesapeake City, where they are “actively receiving appropriate care including medical, behavioral, and enrichment therapy,” she added.
RSPD Chief Francis “Chip” Peterson told the Cecil Whig that officers discovered the purported neglected animals living in alleged squalor inside Romine’s residence while conducting an assault investigation and they, in turn, contacted CCAS officers.
Officers responded to an apartment across the street from Romine’s residence at approximately 2 p.m. on Oct. 26, after Romine’s mother, Dawn Satterfield, called authorities and reported that Romine had assaulted her on the previous night while Satterfield was seated on a couch at her daughter’s “residence/workplace,” according to Peterson and charging documents.
“Out of nowhere, Crystal Romine, in an alcohol-fueled rage, grabbed (her mother) off the couch and slammed her to the ground. Once on the ground, Romine got on top of her and proceeded to slam her head against the floor,” court records allege.
Satterfield told investigators that she had “contusions and bumps to the back of her head,” in addition to a possible dislocated shoulder and bruising to her arms, police said. Satterfield refused medical treatment, however, when Cecil County Department of Emergency Services paramedics arrived at the scene, police added.
After officers had interviewed Satterfield, they went across South Queen Street to Romine’s residence at her former pet shop to interview Romine about the alleged assault, Peterson reported. Officers also went there to check on Romine’s welfare, because her mother had expressed concern regarding Romine’s mental health, according to Peterson.
An ambulance crew transported Romine from her residence to an area hospital, according to Peterson, who explained, “(Officers) could tell she was having some sort of mental health issue.”
Later on Oct. 26, CCAS agents seized 45 animals found inside Romine’s residence.
It marked the second time in 21 months that CCAS agents had seized animals in the care of Romine, who is the founder of Eden Rehab and Rescue, an animal welfare nonprofit, according to court records and Cecil Whig archives.
In January 2019, after receiving complaints, CCAS investigators seized a total of 63 animals from Romine while conducting two search and seizure warrants, one at her storefront space at 10 S. Queen St. in Rising Sun — the same place the seizure of animals occurred on Oct. 26 — and at a kennel space she rented from Captain’s Quarters on Deaver Road near Elkton, court records show.
Relating to that animal seizure, investigators allege that Romine intentionally tortured three dogs and that she failed to provide “nutritious food in sufficient quantity,” as well as proper amounts of water and space and necessary veterinary care for the animals in her care, according to charging documents.
Romine, who has maintained her innocence in previous Cecil Whig articles, is facing 121 animal cruelty charges relating to that January 2019 seizure of animals, court records show. Her jury trial, which is expected to last three days, is scheduled to start on Jan. 11, according to court records.