Category Archives: voter registration

MoCo Republicans in Free Fall

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County’s Republican Party is in free fall. Consider the following five facts, all derived from data provided by the State Board of Elections.

1. While the numbers of MoCo Democratic and unaffiliated registered voters have been growing, the number of registered Republicans is lower now than in 1988.

In the 1988 primary, there were 110,829 registered Republicans in MoCo. That number peaked at 136,269 in the 1996 general election. Since then, the number of registered Republicans fell to 105,561 in the 2020 general. From the 1988 primary through the 2020 general, growth in MoCo registered voters was 109% for Democrats, 241% for unaffiliated and third party voters and minus 5% for Republicans.

2. The share of registered MoCo voters who are Republicans has fallen by half in the last three decades.

In the 1992 primary, 33% of all registered MoCo voters were Republicans. In the 2020 general, the GOP share fell to 16%. The number of registered unaffiliated and third party voters (156,702 in the 2020 general) greatly exceeds the number of registered Republicans (105,561).

3. The ratio of registered MoCo Democrats to Republicans is at its highest level since at least 1988.

In the 1992 primary, there were 1.6 registered MoCo Democrats for every MoCo Republican. By the 2020 general, there were 3.9 registered MoCo Democrats for every Republican.

4. Among actual voters in MoCo, the share who are Republicans has fallen behind unaffiliated and third party voters while Democrats dominate.

Republicans compete directly with Democrats in general elections. In 1988 and the early 1990s, Republicans comprised 30% or more of actual voters in MoCo general elections, both presidential and gubernatorial. Their share of actual voters fell to 17% in 2018 and 15% in 2020. Unaffiliated and third party voters were 19% of actual voters in 2018 and 21% of actual voters in 2020. Democrats now exceed 60% of actual voters, up from the mid-to-high 50s in the 1990s.

5. MoCo Republican registrations and voting have taken big hits under Donald Trump.

The table below shows changes in MoCo registrations and actual voting by party under the past 5 U.S. presidents. For each president, the general election in which they were first elected is used as the starting point and the general election near the end of their tenure in office is used as the ending point.

Democrats saw surges in registrations under both Bush 43 and Obama and enjoyed a large increase in actual voting under Bush 43. Unaffiliated and third party voters saw significant increases in registrations and voting during most periods although registration growth was slow under Trump. Republican registrations and voting grew under Bush 41 but fell under the next four presidents. Voting decline under Trump was about the same as under Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama, but consider that Trump was the only one of them who served just one term. Republican registration decline was huge under Trump (13%), far exceeding declines under his predecessors.

The GOP was once a factor in MoCo politics. GOP Congresswoman Connie Morella served in Congressional District 8, which accounts for most MoCo voters, from 1987 through 2003. Jim Gleason, who was MoCo’s first county executive in 1970-78, was a Republican. The GOP held county council and state legislative seats in the western and northern parts of the county for years. In the 1994 election, one-quarter of MoCo’s partisan elected offices were won by Republicans. But the last MoCo Republican office holders, District 1 Council Member Howie Denis and District 15 Delegate Jean Cryor, were defeated in 2006 and the party has not come close to winning a seat since.

MoCo Republicans might still matter in two ways. First, they are the third-largest group of Republicans in the state behind Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County. That makes them relevant in statewide GOP primaries for whatever that’s worth. Second, they have money. Republicans from all over the state come to MoCo to raise money just as Democrats do. Republicans might even toss some money to centrist Democrats just to prevent progressives from winning.

Once upon a time, the case could be made that MoCo Republicans were relevant on ballot questions. They certainly played a part in passing term limits four years ago. But given the fact that they are now just 15% of actual voters and their partisan embrace of nine districts helped kill Question D, even that is in question.

Is there anything the local party can do to reverse this free fall? That’s a tough nut to crack. MoCo is a diversifying county that looks nothing like the national Republican base that supported Trump. Not all is politically settled here as there are differences even among county Democrats on taxes, school reopening, school boundaries, criminal justice, land use, housing, economic development and other issues which are likely to surface in Democratic primaries. But it’s hard for county Republicans to be regarded as credible on local issues when their national counterparts are ransacking the U.S. Capitol and defending a seditious former president. Without a national GOP that adopts a very different brand and political strategy from the one it has now, it’s hard to imagine a local GOP reversing the trends above.


Blair Cites Voter “Disenfranchisement” in Asking for Recount

By Adam Pagnucco.

County Executive candidate David Blair is citing voter “disenfranchisement” as a reason for his asking for a partial recount.  Blair is specifically referring to the MVA voter registration change issue which affected 5,381 MoCo Democrats and, in your author’s opinion, certainly could have impacted the 79-vote margin race.  We reprint Blair’s blast email below.

Dear Friends –

Yesterday afternoon our campaign filed a formal petition with the Board of Elections for a recount of the June 2018 Primary Election results. Over the last several weeks, we have analyzed the election results by precinct, reviewed the treatment of thousands of provisional ballots, and spoken with hundreds of individual voters who experienced difficulties registering to vote or casting their ballots, and while it is certainly unclear whether a recount will affect the outcome, we believe the narrow margin coupled with the numerous issues impacting the election make a recount appropriate.

This year’s Primary Election was impacted by a variety of unusual circumstances. Most notably, the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) technical errors that affected thousands of Montgomery County residents. The MVA issues caused delays and, in some cases, lost or failed voter registrations and resulted in a significant increase of provisional ballots cast over prior elections. The MVA issues also had a deterrent effect that caused an untold number of legally registered voters to leave polling places without casting ballots, and it resulted in the rejection of valid provisional ballots. Of the 3,616 provisional ballots cast in this year’s Primary Election, 955 or 26.4 % were rejected in the County Executive race.

Our chief concern centers on the 955 provisional ballots that were rejected by the Board of Elections in the County Executive Race as these rejected ballots disproportionately impact our supporters. We have spoken to many supporters whose votes fall into this category, but unfortunately, the recount process does not provide a legal avenue for the campaign to get these votes counted. We join our supporters and the voters of Montgomery County in being frustrated with the breakdown in process that led to their disenfranchisement and we pledge to continue to work with the appropriate officials to fix this error.

During the official canvass, members of the Montgomery County Board of Elections expressed their own concerns that poor data tied their hands and forced them to reject provisional ballots cast by individuals who swore to their longstanding status as registered Montgomery County voters. We hope that the State of Maryland will work in cooperation with the Montgomery County Board of Elections to reach out to voters whose ballots may have been erroneously rejected to ensure the MVA database accurately reflects their most current voter registration and that every vote is counted. In addition, we encourage individual voters whose ballots remain incorrectly rejected to seek administrative relief to rehabilitate their votes and to use our campaign as a resource should they need any help in this process.

The formal petition submitted yesterday calls for a partial recount of the election results to include provisional and absentee ballots as well as a select number of precincts. We expect that this process will take several days. We are grateful for your continuous show of support and we will keep you updated throughout the recount process.

Best wishes,

David Blair


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.


Voter Registration Fiasco Expands. Dems Call for MVA Head’s Resignation

The other day, officials at the Motor Vehicles Administration (MVA) revealed that 18,700 voters may have to cast provisional ballots because MVA failed to transmit updated voter registration information to the Board of Elections.

Turns out the problem is much worse than we thought, as up to 80,000 voters could be affected. That’s around 2% of active registered voters. The problems echo the glitches with the voter registration check-in system that plagued the 2006 primary election.

Democrats are hopping mad on this pre-primary fiasco:

Madaleno Statement Regarding the New Revelations of  Voter Registration Mismanagement

Kensington, MD – State Senator and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Madaleno, Jr. released the following statement in response to the new revelations that over 81,000 – not 18,000 – voting Marylanders may be incorrectly registered:

“18,000 voting Marylanders being incorrectly registered is dysfunctional management.  81,000 voting Marylanders being incorrectly registered is a catastrophic failure.  I call on the Hogan Administration to take effective action on the following items:

  1. Immediately and urgently take the steps necessary to ensure that ALL polling locations have enough provisional ballots to handle the thousands of voters who will be going to the polls under the belief they are correctly registered;
  2. The Hogan campaign should immediately pull off the air ANY paid advertising until a Democratic opponent has been officially declared;
  3. The resignation of Motor Vehicle Administrator Christine Nizer should be submitted immediately.  In addition, any Hogan Administration staff that share responsibility for this egregious failure of basic democratic processes should be immediately dismissed.

    “The chaos being created by this failure subjects real harm to our most cherished democratic values.  Literally hundreds of decisions of who are nominees will be have been needlessly put in limbo.”

Conway and Kaiser Statement on Announcement from MVA

Over 80,000 Voters Now Expected to Encounter Problems Due to MVA Data Mismanagement
Annapolis, MD – Yesterday, the Governor’s office brushed off criticism of the MVA as a “clerical error” and a “conspiracy theory.” Today, they revealed the problem is exponentially worse than they told us, affecting 80,000 Marylanders that we know of.

Their initial failure was bad, and their explanations are worse.  We demand the immediate resignation of Motor Vehicle Administrator Christine Nizer and anyone else who was part of the Hogan administration’s attempt to sweep this under the rug, leaving Marylanders with concerns about their constitutional right to vote on the eve of an election.

Democratic Voter Registration Has Fallen Since Trump’s Election

By Adam Pagnucco.

Despite a wave of anti-Trump activism from the left, Democratic voter registration in Maryland has actually fallen since the President’s election in November 2016.  Is that a problem?

To answer that question, let’s start with this fact: since November 2016, voter registration among Maryland Democrats has dropped from 2,179,948 to 2,134,776 in February 2018.  That’s a decline of 2%.  Over the same period, voter registration has dropped by 2% among Republicans, risen by 2% among independents and other party members and declined 1% overall.

The state’s voter registration numbers go back to 2000.  Over that period, while registration has risen generally, it is tied to election cycles.  After each general election, registration drops, but then begins rising prior to the next general election.  The chart below shows that pattern clearly for all categories of voters.

Each election cycle has seen an inflection point, a month in which registration has stopped falling and started rising steadily through the next general election.  Over the last four presidential cycles, the inflection point has occurred on average fifteen months before the general election.  Over the last four gubernatorial cycles, the inflection point has occurred on average eight months before the general election.  Here are the registration gains by category from average inflection point to general election in each of those cycles.

A few things stand out.  First, registration gains are far higher in presidential cycles than in gubernatorial cycles.  Second, the long-term trend in both kinds of cycles is decline in the rate of gain.  Third, a sharp fall in registration gains among non-Democrats and non-Republicans in the 2016 cycle may reflect significant discontent with the two major party nominees.  And fourth and most relevant, flat-lining Democratic registration may have been a portent of Anthony Brown’s loss in 2014.

What is happening now?  Our latest data point is February 2018, fifteen months after the 2016 general election.  We compared voter registration gains from the last presidential election to fifteen months later over the last five cycles to put the last fifteen months in perspective.  Overall, it’s normal for registration to fall over that period of time.  On average, registration is down 2% for Democrats and Republicans, up 2% for others and down 1% overall for those 15-month periods.

From November 2016 through February 2018, voter registration fell among Democrats and Republicans by 2%, rose among independents and other party members by 2%, and fell for all voters by 1%.  These are the exact same rates as the average for the last five cycles.

This goes against the prevailing narrative that President Trump’s conduct in office is producing a revival of the Democratic Party.  It’s true that Democrats have put together a string of special election wins around the country and many analysts are predicting that they might take over one or both chambers in Congress.  It’s also true that changes in registration don’t always correspond to changes in actual voting.  But in Maryland, at least on the measure of voter registration, Democrats have not appeared to capitalize on anti-Trumpism to bolster their ranks.  Voter registration trends are behaving normally, not abnormally as one might expect in the age of resistance to Trump.

This is good news for Governor Larry Hogan.  As for Maryland Democrats, perhaps questions should be asked.


Does Making Registration Easier Cause More Voting?

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post from Adam Pagnucco:

In this year’s session of the General Assembly, Democrats will be introducing legislation providing for automatic registration of voters.  While the details vary between proposals, the concept is that state agencies would proactively “forward to election officials data about anyone who meets the age, residency and citizenship criteria to vote.”  Individuals would be allowed to opt out if they wish.  Democrats clearly believe this would increase the number of voters who support their party.  Republicans also believe that since they are openly opposing the idea.

Are they right?  Would more registration lead to more voting?

The State of Maryland has taken many steps to make registering and voting easier, including early voting (2010), online registration (2012) and expansion of early voting from six to eight days (2013).  Same day registration during early voting will be in effect for the first time in 2016.  The state has also offered applicants for driver’s licenses the opportunity to register as voters in conformance with federal law since 1995.

Maryland has seen steady increases in voter registration over the years.  The graph below shows statewide registered voters in both primary and general elections since 1990.  While there are slight variations in individual cycles, registration has gone up by about 4-5% every two years.

Voter Registrations graph

Has that resulted in more voting?  Much has been made of declining turnout in the past, and there is something to that: the turnout rate has fallen from 61% in the 1994 general election to 47% in 2014.  It has also declined from 81% in the 1992 general election to 74% in 2012.  But looking at the turnout rate alone can be misleading.  If the number of actual voters increases at a slower rate than the number of registered voters, the turnout rate can fall even if actual voting rises.  In fact, if more aggressive voter registration outreach brings in voters who are less likely to vote, that is exactly what could happen.  The test here is whether actual voting is going up along with registration.

First, let’s look at primaries.  The graph below shows the total number of primary election voters in Maryland since the 1990 elections.  These elections are very sensitive to the circumstances of offices on the ballot.  At the gubernatorial level, primary voting peaked in 1994, 2002 and 2006.  The former two years saw open Governor seats while the latter saw a rare competitive U.S. Senate race.  Primary voting tanked in 1990 and 1998, when incumbent Democrat Governors were running for second terms.  At the presidential level, primary voting surged in 2008 when Barack Obama was in a competitive race with Hillary Clinton.  Primary voting fell dramatically in years when an incumbent President was on the ballot (1996, 2004 and 2012).  These candidate dynamics overwhelmed any effects of increasing registrations.

Primary Voting graph

General elections see much steadier patterns of voting.  The graph below shows the total number of general election voters in Maryland since the 1990 elections.  The absolute number of voters in both gubernatorial generals and presidential generals has been rising steadily since the 1990s – with the notable exception of a divergence in the 2010-2014 period.  Presidential voting has gone up every year since 1996, but gubernatorial voting went down between 2010 and 2014.  This is the same period during which early voting (2010), online registration (2012) and an increase in early voting days (2013) were implemented.

General Voting graph

Let’s look at this presidential vs. gubernatorial split more closely.  The popularity of President Barack Obama may be a factor in increasing the number of voters in recent presidential elections.  Obama gained 62% of the vote in Maryland in both 2008 and 2012 and his approval rating in Maryland has been above 50% for most of his time in office.  The chart below shows changes in registrations and voting for each Maryland jurisdiction between the 2004 and 2012 general elections.  The two counties that gave Obama more than 80% of their vote in 2012 – Baltimore City and Prince George’s County – saw increases in both registrations and the number of actual voters greatly exceeding state averages.  Counties opposing Obama saw rises in registration and voting too, but not nearly as much.

Presidential Voting chart

The gubernatorial elections tell a very different story.  The chart below shows changes in registrations and voting for each Maryland jurisdiction between the 2010 and 2014 general elections.  Statewide, registrations were up by 7% while the number of voters fell by 7%.  But voting behavior differed between counties supporting Larry Hogan and those supporting Anthony Brown.  In the ten jurisdictions that gave Hogan 70% or more of their vote, the actual number of voters fell by 3%.  In the four jurisdictions that supported Brown, the actual number of voters fell by 8%.  Registrations rose by 7% for both groups.

Gubernatorial Voting chart

Increased registration has coincided with more voting in presidential elections and less voting in the 2014 gubernatorial election.  Why is that happening?  Here’s a theory: voters have access to much more information about presidential candidates than state or local candidates and are therefore more likely to vote for the former.  In fact, state and local candidates target voters with long histories of regular voting with their mail and field programs while they ignore voters with sparse histories – including new voters.  Declining local media coverage of state and local races reinforces this information gap.  So the registration efforts of Democrats through legislation and party activities may help fortify the margins of presidential candidates and federal candidates running in presidential years, but they did not help the party in 2014.  Not only did the Democratic nominee for Governor lose, but the Republicans picked up a record number of seats in the House of Delegates, captured the Howard County Executive seat and almost knocked off Congressman John Delaney – all while voter registration was rising.

There’s nothing wrong with making voter registration more convenient.  But given the above, there is little evidence to suggest that Democrats at the state and local level will significantly benefit from it.  There is also little evidence that Republicans should fear it.