Updated at 8:29 p.m.
Brookline Democrat and candidate for Congress Jesse Mermell closed the gap on the race leader by 61 votes in Newton, but continued to trail Newton City Councilor Jake Auchincloss by a significant margin late Thursday as votes, including as many as 3,000 in Franklin, continued to be counted in the Fourth Congressional District.
Three communities - Newton, Wellesley and Franklin - resumed counting ballots on Thursday after Secretary of State William Galvin secured a court order a day earlier to continue tallying thousands of votes that had been properly cast early or by mail before polls closed on Tuesday, but had not been counted.
Newton and Wellesley had both finished their counts early Thursday evening, while the number of ballots to be counted in Franklin grew from an estimated 600 to 3,000 after Galvin's office and town officials identified additional ballots in the town vault.
Mermell - who went into the day trailing by more than 1,500 votes, picked up 222 more votes in Newton, while Auchincloss gained 161 from the 719 additional Democratic ballots counted, according Newton City Clerk David Olson. Results in Wellesley where there were about 100 outstanding ballots to be counted were not immediately available.
That left about 3,000 ballots to be counted in Franklin, which never reported any results on election night, but sits in a part of the district where Auchincloss performed well.
Mermell held a press conference outside Newton City Hall where she said her campaign believes there may be uncounted ballots in more than just three communities.
While she faces long odds, Mermell's campaign also took steps to potentially request a district-wide recount if she can't close the gap with Auchincloss, though she would have to shrink his lead of about one percentage point by at least half to qualify.
"Jesse is focused on the right count, not a recount," said Mermell campaign spokesman David Guarino, when asked about the website massrecount.org that had been set up by the campaign to collect signatures.
"No decision on requesting further counting has been made. At the same time, the deadlines for filing necessary paperwork and signatures for a recount are looming so, out of an abundance of caution and to be ready for any eventuality, we are taking actions to ensure that, if a recount is necessary to ensure votes are counted, we can proceed," Guarino said.
Galvin's office confirmed that recount petitions would have to filed with local clerks by Friday, but said there's currently no authorization for campaigns to submit electronic signatures. The office also said it was unaware of any outstanding ballots left to be counted in any other communities in the district, noting that some final tallies had been updated to reflect overseas and military ballots, as they are every election.
Mermell said she had one primary objective: "Count every vote."
"We also believe that there may be even more uncounted ballots in communities across the district and that's deeply concerning for our democracy and our shared commitment to getting this election right," Mermell said.
Mermell said her campaign has brought other unidentified communities to the attention of Galvin's office, but would not provide further details. She said her hope was to avoid a recount, but she did not rule out seeking a district-wide, or precinct-level recount, depending on how Thursday's counting progressed.
"You'll here from us more in the coming days. Nobody wants a recount, particularly in the middle of a pandemic when we all want to be focused on the important task of getting rid of Donald Trump in November," Mermell said.
Auchincloss also released a statement Thursday evening supporting the continued counting.
"This is an important example for the rest of the country, at a time when President Trump is working hard to discredit mail-in voting and make it harder for people to vote. As the final votes are being counted, we as candidates must be conscientious in allowing Secretary Galvin to take the lead and ensure that the will of the voters is heard in the 4th Congressional District," Auchincloss said.
Asked if she would support Auchincloss, who is a more centrist Democrat, as the party's nominee if she can't bridge the gap to win, Mermell said, "Right now we're focused on making sure every vote is counted."
Mermell ran a progressive campaign, and clashed frequently with the more moderate Auchincloss, who has described himself as an Obama-Baker voter and was once registered as a Republican. After some social media posts surfaced in which Auchincloss had made controversial comments when younger about the confederate flag and other issues, Mermell said he was "indefensibly out of step with this district time after time."
"No amount of spin or prep time will change the fact that Jake Auchincloss has a deeply troubling record of being on the wrong side of the issues that matter most to the people of the Fourth Congressional District," she said.
Auchincloss leads a field of Democrats running to replace U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III in Congress that included 10 names on the ballot and seven active candidates by the time election day came around. He could potentially win the primary with less than a quarter of the total vote.
Supporters of ranked-choice voting, an election reform that will be on the ballot in November, have said it's a system made for the type of race that played out in the Fourth Congressional District.
Every candidate, including Mermell, said during the campaign that they support the reform.
"I don't have a crystal ball about what it would have done in this election," Mermell said on Thursday.