Category Archives: 2020 Presidential Election

Watching the Vote Counts: A Lesson from Maryland

By Adam Pagnucco.

Just like me, I bet you’re eagerly watching the presidential vote counts in states like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania. Here’s a bit of info from Maryland that might help you digest what you’re seeing.

Press coverage of those states emphasizes voting by county. If certain big counties (like Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, Clark in Nevada, Fulton in Georgia and so on) are both heavily Democratic and have counted below average percentages of their votes, that is obviously going to impact the overall state leads. But there’s another thing to consider: voting mode. Democratic Party leaders told their people to vote by mail and vote early. Republican Party leaders told their people to avoid mail and vote in person. That has apparently had some impact in how members of each party chose to vote.

The chart below shows former Vice-President Joe Biden’s vote percentages in nine Maryland counties as of this writing (3 PM on November 5): Allegany, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Garrett, Harford, Queen Anne’s, Washington and Worcester. The data comes from the State Board of Elections. All of these counties gave at least 60% of their total votes so far to President Donald Trump. They are arguably the most conservative counties in the state. The red bars in the chart show Biden’s percentage of the total votes. The blue bars show Biden’s percentage of the mail votes.

In every one of these counties, Biden received less than 40% of total votes tabulated so far. However, in every one of these counties, Biden received a majority of mail votes. In seven of the nine counties, Biden received at least two-thirds of mail votes despite losing by double digits overall to Trump.

A strong caveat: this is Maryland, not Arizona, Georgia, Nevada or Pennsylvania. But these are also rather conservative places in Maryland, places where Democrats at all levels usually lose. The implication here is that voting mode may matter as much as vote count percentages by county. If a disproportionate share of the outstanding votes in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania are mail votes, Biden may have an advantage as those votes come in even if they come from red counties.

Let’s see how much that matters in the hours ahead.

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MoCo’s Bad Bailout Bet

By Adam Pagnucco.

There are a lot of reasons to pay attention to the races for president and Congress: social justice, climate change, the pandemic, the economy, the fate of planet Earth… you get the idea. Here’s one more reason. If you’re a MoCo taxpayer, the fiscal fate of your county government might depend on what happens in Washington. And right now, that fate is not looking great.

Here’s why: since the summer, MoCo has been praying for a federal bailout. The reasons include:

1. The county is facing a revenue shortfall currently estimated at $192 million in this fiscal year and more than a billion dollars over the next six years.

2. In July, the county passed a nothing-burger savings plan that relied to a great extent on lapses rather than actual cuts.

3. From January through mid-September, the county council spent $28 million out of reserves.

4. The county executive has entered into open-ended agreements with county employee unions to give them emergency pay which could total $100 million over the course of a year. (Employees at MCPS, the college and park and planning are not covered by these agreements.) MoCo’s emergency pay is far more generous than offered by any other jurisdiction in the region.

5. Counting both appropriations and placeholders, the county’s share of federal CARES Act money is already spoken for.

6. The county’s own emergency management director has expressed skepticism in public that FEMA will reimburse the county for a meaningful share of its COVID expenses.

7. The county has ended its hiring freeze and is filling positions across many different departments, including ones not directly related to the pandemic emergency.

But who needs fiscal discipline when a blue wave sweeps over Washington, giving the Democrats total control of the federal government? And then they can solve all of MoCo’s financial problems with the biggest state and local government aid package in U.S. history. Right?

Wrong.

As anyone not hiding on Mars has noticed, the federal elections have not gone as planned for Democrats. Three scenarios seem plausible, all with troubling consequences for MoCo.

President Donald Trump wins reelection.
This is obviously awful for many reasons. One of them is that Vice-President Mike Pence can break ties in the U.S. Senate, giving GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell extra latitude in his chamber.

Former Vice-President Joe Biden defeats Trump but Republicans hold control of the Senate.
This is better than a second Trump term but let’s remember that McConnell once said he would prefer that state and local governments go bankrupt rather than get more federal aid. Additionally, the last thing McConnell would want is to give Biden a big win with tons of federal money for blue localities like MoCo.

Biden wins and Democrats get razor-thin control of the Senate.
Even if Democrats win the Senate, McConnell could use the filibuster to block or reduce more federal aid. Would Democrats repeal the legislative filibuster with control of the Senate hanging on a vote or two?

Clearly, a huge bailout for MoCo is far from a sure thing under any of these scenarios. It’s also not helpful that the Democratic majority in the U.S. House could be the smallest held by either party in 20 years.

MoCo’s bailout bet was always a bad one. At the very least, a bit of restraint was in order. But we are now one-third of the way into the current fiscal year and any budget adjustments made now will be more severe than if they were put into effect months ago. The mess is getting harder to clean up, not easier.

Is anyone going to bring order to the budget or are we headed for another tax hike?

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How Many More Votes Will be Counted?

By Adam Pagnucco.

As of right now, here is the status of key election results in MoCo.

School Board At-Large: Lynne Harris 53%, Sunil Dasgupta 46%

School Board District 2: Rebecca Smondrowski 60%, Michael Fryar 39%

School Board District 4: Shebra Evans 66%, Steve Solomon 33%

Circuit Court Judge: Bibi Berry 23%, David Boynton 21%, Michael McAuliffe 21%, Christopher Fogleman 20%, Marylin Pierre 14%

Question A (Authored by Council Member Andrew Friedson, freezes property tax rate with unanimous council vote required to exceed): For 62%, Against 38%

Question B (Authored by Robin Ficker, would limit property tax receipt growth to rate of inflation and remove council’s ability to exceed): For 42%, Against 58%

Question C (Authored by Council Member Evan Glass, changes county council structure to 4 at-large seats and 7 district seats): For 61%, Against 39%

Question D (Authored by Nine Districts for MoCo, changes county council structure to 9 district seats): For 42%, Against 58%

You can see the latest results here for school board and judicial races and here for ballot questions.

But all of this is subject to a HUGE caveat: not all the votes have been counted. How many more remain?

Three batches have yet to be counted. First are the remaining election day votes. As of right now, only 3 of 40 election day vote centers in the county have reported 80% or more of their results. At this moment, 6,474 election day votes have been cast for president. That suggests tens of thousands of votes more could come in.

Second are the remaining mail votes. According to the State Board of Elections, MoCo voters requested 378,327 mail ballots. At this moment, 177,628 mail votes have been cast for president. This suggests that roughly 200,000 mail votes are out there. Not all of them will ultimately result in tabulated votes but it’s still a lot.

Third are provisional ballots. How many are out there is not known right now. However, this will be by far the smallest of these three categories and they will make a difference only in tight races.

So let’s put it all together. At this moment, 312,452 total votes for president have been tabulated. (I don’t have an official turnout number, but since the presidential race has the least undervoting, this figure is probably reasonably close to turnout so far.) This suggests – VERY roughly – that 55-60% of the votes have been counted, with the vast majority of outstanding votes coming from mail ballots.

What does that mean for the results above? To determine that, we need to examine how different the election day votes and the mail votes were from the total votes tabulated so far since those two categories are where most of the remaining votes are coming from. And of those two categories, mail votes will be far larger than election day votes.

President

MoCo’s votes for president (as well as Congress) are not in doubt but the differential results by voting mode are suggestive of a pattern affecting other races. Former Vice-President Joe Biden has received 79% of total votes as of this moment. However, he has received 51% of election day votes, 65% of early votes and 90% of mail votes. That illustrates a strong partisan pattern associated with voting, with election day votes most friendly to Republicans and mail votes most friendly to Democrats. Keep that in mind as you proceed to the races below.

Circuit Court Judges

Challenger Marylin Pierre has so far received 14% of early votes, 14% of election day votes, 15% of mail votes and 14% of total votes. Each of the incumbent judges cleared 20% on all of these voting modes. This is a non-partisan race so the partisan pattern noted above has minimal effect here. With little reason to believe that the next batch of mail votes will be different than the mail votes already tabulated, it’s hard to see Pierre pulling ahead.

School Board

The district races are blowouts. Let’s look at the at-large race between Lynne Harris and Sunil Dasgupta. Harris has so far received 53% of early votes, 60% of election day votes, 53% of mail votes and 53% of total votes. These are not big leads but they are fairly consistent. For Dasgupta to pull ahead, he would need to pull at least 55% of the outstanding votes yet to be counted, more than flipping the outcome of the existing votes. Unless the next batch of votes – especially mail – is somehow fundamentally different from what has already been cast, it’s hard to see that happening.

Ballot Questions

There are two things to note here. First, none of these results are close at this moment. Second, while these are technically non-partisan, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party endorsed in opposite directions and both sides worked hard to make their views known. The partisan split seen in the presidential election had an impact on the ballot question results.

First, let’s look at election day voting. Judging by the presidential race, this was the most favorable voting mode for the GOP. Here is how election day voting (so far!) compares to total voting (again, so far).

Question A For Votes: Election day 51%, total 62%
Question B For Votes: Election day 60%, total 42%
Question C For Votes: Election day 52%, total 61%
Question D For Votes: Election day 60%, total 42%

This looks like good news for supporters of Question B (Robin Ficker’s anti-tax question) and Question D (nine districts). After all, there are probably tens of thousands of election day votes yet to be counted.

However, the big majority of outstanding votes are mail ballots. Joe Biden received 90% of mail ballot votes tabulated so far, a sign that Democrats dominated this voting mode. Here is what the mail votes (so far) look like.

Question A For Votes: Mail 68%, total 62%
Question B For Votes: Mail 34%, total 42%
Question C For Votes: Mail 65%, total 61%
Question D For Votes: Mail 33%, total 42%

The mail votes uphold the winning margins of Questions A and C and depress the results for Questions B and D. That’s not a surprise if 1. Democrats voted disproportionately by mail and 2. Democrats stuck with their party’s position on the ballot questions. Indeed, we know here at Seventh State that this post on the Democrats’ statement on the ballot questions got huge site traffic.

As a matter of fact, one could even go so far as to say that once the ballot questions turned partisan, it may have been the beginning of the end.

Plenty of votes remain to be counted so let’s respect that. We may know a lot more by the weekend.

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Everyone Can Vote Absentee

The Maryland presidential primary on Tuesday, April 28th is still awhile off. Depending upon the situation, many people may be reluctant to vote at the polls in order to protect themselves, loved ones, and public health. So it seems a good idea to request your absentee ballot now.

Maryland has no-excuse absentee voting, so any registered voter can request an absentee ballot. You can have it sent to your home or another address. Voters can request an absentee ballot from their home either by mailing in the form or filling it out online.

If you find it easier to download a form and mail it, you can find the form online by clicking here or going to:

https://elections.maryland.gov/voting/documents/Absentee_Ballot_Application_English.pdf

Alternatively, you can fill out the absentee request form online by clicking here or going to:

https://voterservices.elections.maryland.gov/OnlineVoterRegistration/VoterType

This is a combined voter registration and absentee ballot request form. If you’re already registered, don’t worry that you’ll be registered twice — the form has questions to avoid this problem. The information is virtually the same as on the mail-in form, so it shouldn’t take any longer to fill out even though it serves a dual purpose.

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Oprah Yes

By now, you’ve surely heard about Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the Golden Globes that has led to serious talk about Oprah making a bid for the White House. Take it seriously. A University of Maryland study concluded that Oprah’s 2008 endorsement of Barack Obama gained him more than 1 million votes in the Democratic primary.

I don’t know if Oprah should run for president. A true American success story, she has done so much in the private sector that it it would be a shame if she gave it up. Revealing incredible business acumen, she didn’t just become the most successful talk show host but the leader of a business empire.

As head of that empire, Oprah has been willing to use her power and influence for good in many ways. She has hired and promoted women, especially, minority women, to the top of her team. Smart business – why not grab talent others overlook – that helped create a new cohort of minority and female business leaders.

Oprah has also leveraged her wealth and power to present African-American women and stories in media from magazines to movies in a far more positive light. Most importantly, she does it in a way that is utterly normal and marketable, rather than forced tokenism. In other words, the way it should be.

At this point, there is a strong case to be made that the black community and America need more African-American business owners than more African-American politicians. Business brings money and influence – assets that make it far easier to exercise and to magnify political power.

The argument for Oprah for President is also clear. She is a great American communicator. Oprah has all the graciousness and dignity that Trump lacks. While Trump has empathy only for himself, Winfrey has deep compassion for others.

Trump slithers in the gutter appealing to dark impulses, but Oprah hearkens to the better angels of our nature. Trump excludes while Oprah includes. Even her strong advocacy for the “me too” movement and minority progress is inclusive and designed to raise people up rather than put others down.

Oprah grew up poor and created a business empire, while Trump inherited millions and prides himself on bilking people and treating others like garbage. Oprah has demonstrated an ability to delegate – she has to in such a large organization – even as she assimilates new information quickly.

Nevertheless, she lacks experience in politics and public policy. Obama had to pick up the economic and foreign policy wreckage of the Bush administration. The next president will face the arguably even greater challenge of restoring political norms and institutions as well as frayed foreign alliances.

We’ll see if Oprah chooses to take the plunge into politics. Her role as a powerful business leader, however, is not one to give up lightly and would be missed if she did.

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