Did the MVA Voter Issue Change Any Maryland Primary Results?

By Adam Pagnucco.

The failure of the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) to transfer data on some voters who changed their registration information to the State Board of Elections (SBE) has attracted lots of attention from the press and members of the General Assembly.  Here is a key question: did it actually change the outcomes of any elections?  New data allows us to examine this issue.

Recently, SBE sent the General Assembly the number of voters affected by the MVA registration change issue by party, precinct, state legislative district and Congressional district.  We show the total number of voters affected by state legislative district below.  (Note:  The data does not include all potentially impacted voters because SBE cannot map all addresses on file with MVA to addresses in the voter registration list.)

Now what happened to these voters?  These are folks who tried to change their voter registration address or party affiliation at MVA and, unfortunately, the changes were not passed on to SBE.  One of five events would have happened to these voters.

Possibility 1: 5,163 affected voters voted normally because they changed addresses within the same area.  We don’t have their distribution by legislative district.

Possibility 2: They could have voted through a provisional ballot which was subsequently accepted.

Possibility 3: They could have voted through a provisional ballot which was subsequently rejected.

Possibility 4: They could have been told at the polling place that they must cast a provisional ballot and then left without voting.

Possibility 5: They may not have tried to vote at all.

Right now, we don’t know the distribution in each one of the above five event categories.  We do know that the number of affected voters who voted provisionally was 3,538 but we don’t know how many of those ballots were rejected.  Possibility 4 – leaving the polling location without voting – is the most unknowable of all and also the most disturbing.  It’s also a very real possibility as illustrated by Maryland Matters’ report of this exchange at a General Assembly hearing between SBE Administrator Linda Lamone and two state legislators.

Del. Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery) seemed concerned that while the estimated overall turnout statewide was about 25 percent, among the affected voters – roughly 8,700 affected voters who used either provisional or regular ballots – the turnout was less than 10 percent.

“Is it reasonable to say that this may have had a deterrent effect on voters, or are you concerned that it could have had a deterrent effect on voters?” Luedtke asked.

“Yes,” Lamone replied.

“That’s a key issue for us,” Luedtke said.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), vice chairman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, asked Lamone if she knew of any studies that showed the use of a provisional ballot was “dissuasive.”

“I have seen some discussion of that, senator,” she said. “I haven’t seen the numbers, but I have seen some discussion that people believe that it’s less than a vote – it’s not a real ballot.”

Under further questioning by Pinsky, Lamone agreed that voters could have been put off by the prospect of using a provisional ballot.

“There could be some number of voters out there who didn’t vote because of this error?” Pinsky asked.

“That’s correct,” Lamone replied.

Did any primary election results change because of this mistake?  We will never be able to answer that question, but we can identify some elections that were close enough so that an impact was possible.  Below are eight races across the state in which the number of voters affected by the MVA issue was at least five times the winning margin held by the victor.

This does not include the Baltimore County Executive race (a seventeen-vote margin after recount) or the Howard County Council District 1 race (a six-vote margin after recount) because their boundaries do not match state legislative district data, but obviously, they could have been affected.  Other than those two races, the ones in which the MVA mistake had the greatest probability of affecting the election were the contests for Montgomery County Executive and House District 16.  In the MoCo Executive race, Marc Elrich led by 492 votes in early and election day voting and David Blair led by 73 votes in provisional voting.  That compares to a total of 5,381 MoCo Democrats affected by the MVA issue.

Going forward, there are two areas of concern.  First, there must not be a recurrence of this issue in the general election.  And second, now that the state has passed automatic voter registration, a law that mandates the passing of voter information between numerous state agencies and SBE, the potential for the kinds of problems seen at MVA is now greatly magnified.  Imagine the chaos that would result from MANY thousands of voters showing up to the polls thinking they had registered but then finding out that SBE did not have their information.  It would make the MVA issue look tiny and would have the potential to affect a whole lot more elections.

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Floreen Launches County Executive Website

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council Member Nancy Floreen, who is trying to get on the ballot as an independent candidate for Executive, has launched a new website for her run.  The site is short on details right now but many candidates launch starter sites early and expand them later.  Also, Floreen opened a new campaign finance account on July 3.  Its chair is Sally Sternbach, a former Executive Director of Rockville Economic Development Inc. and a former Acting Director of the county’s Department of Economic Development.  Its treasurer is Joyce Fuhrmann, who was once Council Member Mike Knapp’s Chief of Staff and is a former Vice President at the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation.

Below are three screenshots from Floreen’s new site.

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Blair Comments on Recount

By Adam Pagnucco.

County Executive candidate David Blair, who is trailing by 79 votes in the certified result of the Democratic primary, has sent out a blast email commenting on a possible recount.  In the email, Blair says, “We have concerns with the tabulated results after hearing from voters who experienced difficulties during Early Vote and on Election Day coupled with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration’s voter registration technical errors, which resulted in thousands more provisional ballots than in previous elections… Accordingly, we anticipate that in the next few days we will request the Board of Elections to perform a full recount.”

We reprint the entire email below.

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Could Ficker Win a Three-Way Race for Executive?

By Adam Pagnucco.

There is much condemnation of Council Member Nancy Floreen among Democratic activists for leaving the party and launching an independent run for Executive.  Some of the outrage is related to party loyalty.  Some of it is related to support for the apparent Democratic primary winner, Marc Elrich.  And some of it is related to Floreen’s record in office and historic support by the business community.  Those are all value judgments best left to the readers.  But one concern can actually be evaluated with data – the notion that a Floreen candidacy could enable GOP candidate Robin Ficker to come up the middle and squeak out a victory.  Could that actually happen?

Ficker, who has a long and infamous history in the county, has been running for office since the 1970s.  He was actually elected to a District 15 House of Delegates seat in 1978, a decision reversed by the voters four years later.  Since then, he has run for offices of all kinds and placed numerous charter amendments on the ballot.  Two of his charter amendments – a property tax limitation measure in 2008 and a term limits measure in 2016 – were passed by county voters.

Robin Ficker’s official House of Delegates picture from 1978.  Forty years later, could he be headed to elected office again?

First, let’s look at Ficker’s electoral history since the 1990s.  He has run ten times and lost on every occasion.  In every race, he has been a Republican except for 2006, when he ran as an independent for County Executive.  (Twelve years later, that’s what Nancy Floreen is doing.)

Besides all the losing, the thing that stands out here is Ficker’s unpopularity in the Republican Party.  He has entered six contested GOP primaries since 1994 and lost five of them.  The only time he had opposition and won was when he ran in the 2009 County Council District 4 special election and defeated two no-name Republicans who barely campaigned.  The lesson here is that when Republicans have an alternative to Ficker who is not a Democrat, they tend to vote for someone else.

Even Republicans are reluctant to buy what Ficker is selling.  Photo credit: Getty Images, John W. McDonough.

When he did make it to general elections, Ficker earned vote percentages ranging from 34% to 41%.  But most of those elections occurred in Upcounty districts where Republicans are a much larger percentage of the electorate than the county as a whole.

Now let’s look at the performances of GOP candidates for County Executive over the last five general elections.

One of the untold stories in MoCo elections is the recent decline in electoral performance by Democratic nominees in MoCo Executive general elections.  From 1998 through 2006, the Republican nominee did not crack 30%.  In the last two elections, the Republican got 34% of the vote.  For the most part, these were protest votes as the Republican candidates had no money, did not campaign and were not expected by anyone to win.  Another thing to note is that the only one of these elections that had an independent candidate was 2006, when Ficker ran against Ike Leggett and GOP nominee Chuck Floyd.  Ficker got just 9% of the vote, another sign of his unpopularity with both Republicans and independents.

Finally, let’s consider turnout by party in MoCo mid-term general elections.

Over the years, Democratic turnout percentage has edged up gradually, independent turnout has increased and Republican turnout has collapsed.  At some point, it’s reasonable to expect that independent turnout might exceed the GOP.

For Ficker to win, he would need to hold onto all the GOP votes, win more than 70% of independents and have Floreen and Elrich split everyone else exactly down the middle.  That would result in Ficker getting 34% of the vote and Floreen and Elrich each getting 33%.  That’s extremely unlikely for two reasons.  First, as detailed above, Ficker is weak among GOP voters and Republicans and independents would have a viable alternative in Floreen.  Second, for this scenario to work, almost half of all Democrats would have to vote against their own party’s nominee to keep Elrich at 33%.  It’s easier to see a path to victory for Floreen, who could win by getting half the Republicans, all the independents and roughly 28% of the Democrats.

Just to be clear, we are skeptical that anyone can defeat a Democratic nominee in a MoCo countywide election.  But whatever the ramifications of a possible Floreen independent run, we’re pretty sure that one of them will not be a victory by Robin Ficker.

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Is Ficker Using Public Financing to Promote His Law Practice?

By Adam Pagnucco.

County Executive candidate Robin Ficker is enrolled in the county’s public financing program and has announced that he has qualified for $231,185 in public matching funds.  Those funds are supposed to be used to finance his campaign for office.  But his Facebook ads raise the question of whether he is also using them to promote his law practice.

Ficker has run at least three political Facebook ads from his Robin Ficker Law Offices page.

The content of the ads is unquestionably political.  But the Facebook page is a mixed bag.  It advertises his services as a criminal defense lawyer and has his business phone number.  It also offers a combination of political content and promotion of Ficker’s legal work.

To be fair, Ficker’s ads do not advertise the legal posts.   But whenever a voter sees one of his political ads, they see “Robin Ficker Law Offices” at the top.

Maryland COMAR 33.13.10.03 prohibits the use of campaign funds for “the personal use or the personal benefit of a candidate.”  Montgomery County COMCOR 16.21.01.05 prohibits the use of public financing funds for “personal use.”  Whether Ficker is running afoul of these regulations is a matter for the authorities.  But if he wants to avoid this issue entirely, Ficker should establish a political Facebook page that is separate from his business.  That’s what other candidates do and Ficker should do the same.

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MoCo Democrats Reveal Preferred Directions for the County

By Adam Pagnucco.

Lots of attention has been paid to who will win the MoCo Democratic Primary for Executive.  At this point, it appears to be Council Member Marc Elrich.  But much less attention has been paid to something equally important: the voice of the voters.  In this primary, MoCo Democrats spoke out loud and clear about their preferred directions for the future of the county.

The Executive race is like no other in MoCo.  The office may not be as powerful as the County Council on paper, but its holder is THE leader and spokesman for the county and sets the tone and direction of the county going forward.  Voters understand that.  And they scrutinize the message and vision of the Executive candidates to a much greater extent than others running for local office.

In this primary, there were six candidates for Executive.  Each had enough resources to be heard.  And as a group, they sent three kinds of messages to the voters.  By choosing between these three messages, the voters indicated their preferred directions for the county’s future.

Status Quo (23% of the vote)

Council Members Roger Berliner and George Leventhal ran on their records in office and argued that they merited a promotion to Executive.  Berliner and Leventhal were arguably the two most effective legislators on the County Council.  Both showed substantial skill at passing a large variety of bills, including difficult ones like Berliner’s bill to protect street trees and Leventhal’s bill to prevent unilateral sales of county property by the Executive.  The two served a combined twenty-four years as committee chairs and each was elected Council President twice.  Their records were not just their own, but were also essentially those of the council itself.  Boiled down to its basic nature, their message was, “I’m an experienced leader and you can count on me to continue the county’s success.”

Berliner and Leventhal ran on their records as Council Members in their mail.

In many years, this kind of strategy would have worked.  MoCo Democrats tend to respect effective elected service.  But this was not one of those years as Berliner and Leventhal combined to get 23% of the vote.  More than three-quarters of Democrats opted for change of one kind or another.

Progressive Plus Anti-Developer Direction (29% of the vote)

Despite being in elected office continuously for 31 years, Council Member Marc Elrich ran as a change candidate.  He argued that the county needed a more progressive social justice direction that would help renters, vulnerable people and those living in and close to poverty.  He was especially focused on closing the achievement gap in public schools and instituting the most progressive environmental standards in the nation.  At the same time, he lambasted developers as “the special interest with too much influence over the government” and vowed to “hold developers accountable for providing the resources necessary to maintain our quality of life.”

Elrich’s comments about developers on his website and in email are in line with the message he has used for decades.

This wasn’t just Elrich’s campaign; almost the entire progressive movement in MoCo lined up behind him and did everything they could to get him elected.  The result was 29% of the vote.

Competitive Direction (48% of the vote)

The three non-Council Members – businessman David Blair, former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow and Delegate Bill Frick – had very different biographies but they had similar campaign messages, especially on the economy.  All three agreed that the county’s economic competitiveness is slipping and must be restored to fund the kinds of progressive priorities favored by all the candidates, and most of the voters.

Blair, Krasnow and Frick made economic competitiveness the focus of their campaigns in their mail and websites.

Blair, Krasnow and Frick combined to receive 48% of the vote with essentially the same message on the economy.  The Executive election revealed that the group of voters wanting economic competitiveness and tax restraint is the largest faction in the county’s Democratic Party.  The competitive direction candidates did not win because there were too many of them and they split up each other’s support, allowing Elrich to squeak in by 80 votes.

Combine the competitive direction Democrats with the roughly 40% of registered voters who are unaffiliated or Republicans and you get 70% of the general electorate – the exact percentage who voted for term limits.  These numbers are not a coincidence.

The Executive election is not quite finished yet.  Council Member Nancy Floreen is trying to get on the ballot as an independent, which we believe is an uphill battle, and a general election awaits.  But through their votes on candidate messages, MoCo Democrats have spoken about where they would like the county to go.  Elected officials would be wise to heed them.

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Post Editorial Board Goes After Elrich… Again

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Washington Post has published an editorial branding Council Member Marc Elrich, who is currently leading in the Democratic primary for Executive, as “an outlier who proudly positioned himself on the ideological extreme left” and “the most insistently anti-business and anti-development member of the Montgomery County Council for more than a decade.”  Those who are interested in the Post’s opinion can read it here.

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Blair Reaching Out to Absentee and Provisional Voters

By Adam Pagnucco.

As Council Member Nancy Floreen plans an independent run for Executive, the Democratic primary is not quite over.  Democratic Executive candidate David Blair, who trails Marc Elrich by eighty votes, is reaching out to absentee and provisional voters whose ballots were rejected to ensure that their votes are counted.  We reprint Blair’s email blast below.

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Nancy Floreen is Running for Executive

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council Member Nancy Floreen has announced that she is gathering petition signatures for an independent run for County Executive.  We reprint her statement below.

*****

Montgomery County for Nancy Floreen

For Immediate Release

Contact: Sarah Van De Weert

s.vandeweert@gmail.com

Statement by Nancy Floreen

Montgomery County Councilmember

July 11, 2018

On July 2, I filed my intent to seek the office of Montgomery County Executive in the November general election as an independent. On July 9, I officially changed my party affiliation to “unaffiliated.”

Although the unofficial returns of the Democratic primary for County Executive are in, those results have not yet been certified by the Board of Elections. Given the tiny margin in unofficial returns, I am also aware that a recount of the ballots is likely.

Notwithstanding all this, I am today announcing that I will be circulating nominating petitions for the office of County Executive for the November general election beginning today.

I have been part of local government in Montgomery County for most of my career – as a member of the Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission, as mayor of Garrett Park, and then as a member of the County Council for 16 years. In this county, local government has always been about listening to people’s problems and figuring out the most effective and most efficient ways to help them. It has never been a partisan process, and it has built a great county.

I am a candidate for County Executive – unexpectedly, I admit – because it would be a terrible loss for this county to fall into the sort of polarized posturing that has poisoned our national politics. That’s not my way. I want to get things done for all of us. We need to attract good jobs for our people, provide housing for everyone, and reinforce our tax base so we can continue to provide the services people need. That’s what I want to do. I hope the voters will help me work to do the things we need to do and leave the posturing to others.

The critical interests of Montgomery County families are ill-served when any candidate can prevail with barely 29 percent of the one-third of Democrats who turned out, the Republicans had no choice at all, and the county’s 150,000 independent voters were prevented by law from voting in either contest. There is no mandate here. Most county voters have yet to be heard from.

That is why I am determined to give Montgomery County a third, independent choice come November. I am heartened by the positive response this effort has already won. I call upon all Democrats, independents, and Republicans to say “no” to both flawed extremes, to think for themselves, and to put principle and pragmatism above purely party politics.

Montgomery County deserves no less.

For more information, contact Sarah Van De Weert at s.vandeweert@gmail.com.

Montgomery County for Nancy Floreen

P.O. Box 183

Garrett Park, MD 20896

By Authority: Joyce Fuhrmann, Treasurer

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