Category Archives: early voting

MoCo Early Voters Are Not Who You Think

By Adam Pagnucco.

Early voting wrapped up yesterday and the State Board of Elections has posted results.  Folks, we can say this: a wild race just got a whole lot wilder.

First, as we saw from the first day of early voting, turnout is waaaay up.  Here is the distribution by party in the 2014 and 2018 primaries.

Early voting is up for everyone but especially for Democrats.

Now here is the early voting by Congressional, State Legislative and County Council districts.

The biggest increases in early voting have occurred in State District 15, State District 16, Council District 1 and Congressional District 6.  The lowest increases – by far – have occurred in State District 20 and Council District 5.

Below we show early voting by gender and age group.

Women have an edge here but not a huge one.  The age group results are astounding.  Turnout is up by a gigantic amount for people aged 18 through 24.  It went up by the least amount for people aged 45 through 64.

Additionally, one of the campaigns analyzed the voting patterns of those who voted early for us.  Roughly half the Democratic early voters had voted in at least two of the last three mid-term primaries (2006, 2010 and 2014).  The other half had voted less regularly or not at all.

We draw the following tentative conclusions from this data.

1.  Voters in Congressional District 6 and nearby areas turned out more strongly than the rest of the county.  This might reflect the intense campaigning of the congressional candidates there and especially the massive spending by David Trone.  This is good news for countywide candidates who run strong in those places.

2.  Voters in District 20 – the liberal heart of MoCo that includes Takoma Park and inside-the-Beltway Silver Spring – did not turn out to the same extent.  This is not a great thing for countywide candidates whose base is in that area and is especially bad for County Executive candidate Marc Elrich.

3.  Tons and tons of voters who are not targeted by most campaigns – especially young people, irregular voters and new voters – have come out and are roughly equal to the super Dems.  This adds an element of unpredictability to the race.  For the most part, these voters are not getting overwhelmed by mail, door knocks and phone calls as are super Dems.  How are they getting information on local races?  Television is one source.  Those campaigns with the resources for a huge target universe (like Trone and David Blair) are communicating with them while others are not.  If they are using Google to research candidates, they are encountering sources like Bethesda Magazine and the blogs since few other sites write about down-ticket races.  Some of them may not be voting down-ticket at all and may only be casting votes for Governor and Congress.

4.  And finally, we offer our standard caveat: we don’t know if higher early voting will cannibalize from election day voting or add to it.  We won’t know that until Tuesday night.

This is a helluva race, folks.  Every time we think we might be starting to figure it out – BAM! – something unexpected happens.  If you’re a MoCo political junkie like we are, this election is one for the ages!


Early Voting Day 1 Turnout is Way Up

By Adam Pagnucco.

Yesterday was the first day of early voting in the 2018 primary and it was a BIG day.  The number of people who voted was a whopping 52% higher than those who voted on Day 1 of early vote in the 2014 primary.

Below we compare Day 1 turnout between 2014 and 2018 by jurisdiction.

All jurisdictions except Carroll, Cecil and Queen Anne’s had double-digit increases in turnout.  In Calvert, Prince George’s and Washington, turnout doubled or close to it.

Now let’s look at party.

Democratic turnout increased by 56% vs a 40% increase among Republicans.

In viewing the above numbers, bear in mind that the number of eligible active voters has risen by just 6% over the last four years.

It’s premature to say that this equates to an increase in overall turnout as early voting has been growing as a percentage of total votes for years.  Either way, we wonder if the big winners from this are the candidates who sent out early mail.


A Request for the State Board of Elections and the General Assembly

By Adam Pagnucco.

One of the purposes for the disclosure of political contributions is to help voters decide whom to support in elections.  In order to serve that role, contributions should be disclosed with enough time remaining before the election so that voters can review them before proceeding to the voting booth.  But that’s not quite the case in Maryland.

Recently, we wrote that the percentage of voters who vote early has been rising for years.  That percentage hit a high of 31% in the 2016 general election and could be between 20% and 25% in the upcoming primary.  Unfortunately for some of those voters, they will not have access to the latest campaign finance reports when they vote.  Consider the following entries on the state’s election calendar.

Primary Election

Annual 2017 campaign finance report due: 1/17/18 (11:59 PM)

Pre-primary 1 campaign finance report due: 5/22/18 (11:59 PM)

Early voting begins: 6/14/18

Pre-primary 2 campaign finance report due: 6/15/18 (11:59 PM)

General Election

Pre-general 1 campaign finance report due: 8/28/18 (11:59 PM)

Early voting begins: 10/25/18

Pre-general 2 campaign finance report due: 10/26/18 (11:59 PM)

The above calendar shows that people voting during the first two days of the early voting period will have no way to know about the contents of the last pre-election campaign finance reports when they vote.  This is potentially important because there are sometimes surprises in those last reports.  In 2014, the Baltimore Sun reported on October 26 that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Anthony Brown received a $500,000 loan from the Laborers Union in his final pre-general report, an unusual event that far exceeded the $6,000 limit on PAC contributions.  However, early voting started on October 23.  According to the State Board of Elections, 101,537 people voted during the first three days of early vote in the 2014 general election and would have not seen that report in the Sun.  One can easily imagine similar surprises occurring with regards to big self-funding checks, bundled corporate contributions, out-of-state PAC checks or the like.

To remedy this problem, we request that the State Board of Elections and/or the General Assembly change the due date of the final pre-election campaign finance report to 72 hours before early voting begins.  This will give the media time enough to report on anything interesting in those last reports and for voters to consider it before they head to the booth.


What Percentage of Voters Will Vote Early?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Long ago, the overwhelming percentage of voting occurred on Election Day.  Absentee and provisional ballots played roles mainly in tight races.  So campaign activities were performed on tight, escalating schedules and reached a climax on the one day when voters headed to the booth.  But in the era of early voting, it’s not so simple anymore.

Early voting in Maryland was established by a state constitutional amendment passed in 2008.  It was first used in the 2010 elections.  Usage of the option started slowly, with only 10% of voters voting early in the 2010 primary.  But in the 2014 general and 2016 primary, 18% of voters voted early and the percentage spiked to 31% in the 2016 general.  Democrats tend to vote early at higher rates than Republicans and unaffiliated voters.

Early voting has been less heavily used in MoCo than in the rest of the state but MoCo closed the gap in 2016.  In that year, MoCo’s early voting percentages were very close to state averages.

There are huge variations in early voting between counties.  Talbot County, on the Eastern Shore, is the early voting champ.  Forty-five percent of Talbot’s voters voted early in the 2016 general election.  Kent, Prince George’s and Queen Anne’s Counties also stand out.  On the other side, early voting is least frequent in Western Maryland’s Allegany and Washington Counties.

What percentage of voters will vote early this time?  Our hunch is that the huge spike in the 2016 general election was anomalous and related to strong feelings about the presidential candidates.  If we throw those results out, the long term trend is still up.  Our best guess is that between a fifth and a quarter of Democrats at the state level and in MoCo will vote early in the upcoming primary.  We shall see if we are right!


MoCo Board of Elections Responds to 7S Report on Early Voting Problems

The following was sent to 7S by Marjorie M. Roher, Public Information Officer of the Montgomery County Board of Elections:

Regarding “A Critical Error in Early Voting

The Montgomery County Board of Elections would like to take this opportunity to address the concern raised in “A Critical Error in Early Voting.”    Mr. Pagnucco’s description of the process that occurs in an early voting center is correct, and the Board appreciates his acknowledgement that the mistakes were honest.

Board staff learned of similar occurrences sporadically in several of the Early Voting Centers.  In each case brought to our attention, the voter received the correct ballot prior to scanning and was able to cast his or her vote in the appropriate congressional race.  The Election Director immediately contacted each Early Voting Center Manager to reinforce the need for accuracy in ballot distribution, instructed that Check-in Judges be reminded to circle the ballot style number on the Voter Authority Card (VAC) to make it easier to see, and Ballot Judges be reminded to double check the ballot style number on the VAC and ensure that they were issuing the correct ballot to each voter.  The design of the ballot issuance tables at each Early Voting Center was reviewed to ensure that the possibility of co-mingling ballot styles was eliminated.  Finally, a copy of The Seventh State blog was sent to each Early Voting Election Judge so that they might better understand the perception of the public when these types of errors occur.

All of these measures will assist in keeping errors to a minimum, but we urge voters also to pay attention to the ballot they are issued and, if they think they have the wrong ballot or if they have any other concerns regarding the voting process, speak to an election judge immediately so corrective action may be taken prior to scanning the ballot.  This will assist the election judges, who are voters who volunteer to work at election time to assist their neighbors with the voting process.

When the State Board of Elections selected the voting system to be used in 2016, it intended to utilize Ballot Marking Devices (BMD) at all Early Voting Centers.  This system would have allowed the Check-in Judge to hand each voter a ballot activation card with a bar code on the top, which  would contain the voter’s ballot style and, when inserted in the BMD, cause the correct ballot style to appear on the screen.  This would eliminate the need for an election judge to select the correct paper ballot for each voter.  Unfortunately, problems with how the BMD screen displayed contests with many names could cause voters to not see all candidates before voting.  For that reason, the State Board of Elections determined that the BMDs would only be used in 2016 by those individuals who requested them.

The State Board of Elections has requested the manufacturer of the BMD to modify the device so that all names in a contest would appear on the same screen.  We believe that this will be accomplished by 2018 so that all voters choosing to vote during Early Voting would be able to utilize this method, thereby eliminating the need for multiple styles of paper ballots at each location and the possibility of human errors.

The Montgomery County Board of Elections strives to ensure that each voter has a pleasant, efficient, and accurate voting process and we encourage voters to contact us with comments or suggestions for improvement, so that  we all can work together  to make a good voting experience even better.

Marjorie M. Roher
Public Information Officer
Montgomery County Board of Elections


Early Voting Turnout Heavy Among Older and African-American Voters

Yesterday, I looked at the partisanship of early voters. Today, I take a peek of the age and racial demographics of early voters based on data graciously provided by a reader.

The estimates of the racial composition of the electorate are based on estimates of the race of voters with the caveat of the potential for errors. Not everyone named Morales is Latino just as not everyone called Goldberg is Jewish. Nonetheless, the information provide a useful first cut at who is participating in early voting.

Let’s start with the percentage of the electorate in each age group broken down by party:

partybyageEarly voters skew heavily towards older voters, especially among Republicans. At 74.4%, nearly three-quarters of GOP voters are over age 50. The Democratic share older than 50 is around 5% lower at 69.3%. Among all early voters, which includes unaffiliated and third-party registrants, the share is 68.9%, slightly lower than for Democrats. The low figure reflects much less skew towards older voters among non-major party voters.

In contrast, people 35 and under make up a low share of early voters–11.7% among all voters and just 11.4% among Democrats and 9.5% among Republicans. The latter figure reflects the heavy skew away from Republicans among millennials.

The next table shows the racial composition of each county’s electorate. Percentages add up to less than 100% because the race or ethnicity of many voters is unknown and cannot be reasonably gauged to any extent by proxies. As a result, the percentages presented here are invariably low end estimates.

countybyraceAmong early voters, African Americans are high participants (31%), exceeding their share of the voting-age population. Unsurprisingly, black participants overwhelmingly outnumber other groups in Prince George’s and Baltimore City. In Charles, African-American early voters barely edge out whites–a sign of the continuing evolution of racial demographics in that county.

The encouraging rates of black participation help explain why Democrats are consistently outperforming Republicans in early voting. Not only does Maryland have vastly more Democrats, they are voting at a higher rate than Republicans.

In contrast, Latinos (3%) and Asians (3%) appear to be casting early votes at low rates, reflecting lower rates of citizenship and turnout. Asians compose the highest share of early voters in Montgomery (7%) and Howard (6%). Latinos comprise 6% of early voters in Montgomery, and 3% in Anne Arundel, Frederick and Howard.

In Maryland as a whole, approximately 57% of early voters are white. Again, as the percentages are calculated out of total voters and many could not be placed in any category, the estimates for all racial groups are low.


Early Voting Day 4 Stats

ev4mdEarly voting continues apace in Maryland. As in 2014, early voting dropped off precipitously over the weekend–an argument against switching Election Day to a weekend. So far, 400,235 Marylanders have voted early. This is already 93% of the people who voted early four years ago, so we will likely surpass the 2012 total today.

The increase is unsurprising due to the substantial increase in the number of early voting centers. Additionally, Governor O’Malley suspended early voting for two days in 2012 due to Hurricane Sandy and then extended it for two more days to make up the time.

While 10.3% of eligible voters have already cast their ballots, the rates differ greatly by party. 12.3% of registered Democrats have voted early compared to only 8.5% of registered Republicans.

The early vote is even more impressive when presented as a share of the number who voted in 2012. The 2016 early vote equals 14.6% of the 2012 total turnout. The number of Democrats who have voted early in 2016 is 17.0% of the total number of Democratic voters in 2012. In contrast, the number of Republican early voters is just 9.0% of the total 2012 Republican vote.

Despite the large gap between the parties, Republicans have improved very slightly relative to 2012, as the number of Republicans who have voted early this year is 97% of the 2012 total compared to 92% for the Democrats.

Note that all of these figures exclude absentee ballots. When I checked, the Board of Elections has not updated these figures since October 28th. As of that date, 78,299 Marylanders had cast absentee ballots. No doubt many more have arrived at the Board of Elections over the past few days.

The following graph shows that Montgomery County, the State’s largest jurisdiction largely reflects the State pattern.

ev4mocoIn Montgomery, 74,525 voters participated in the first four days of early voting. This equals 96% of the people who voted early four years ago, so Montgomery is performing slightly better than four years ago relative to the rest of the State (93%).

However, Montgomery still lags behind Maryland, as just 11.3% of eligible voters have voted early in the county. This includes 13.9% of registered Democrats but just 7.6% of registered Republicans. The 2016 early vote equals 12.1% of the 2012 total turnout.

Again, this masks a large partisan gap. The number of Democrats who have voted early in 2016 equals 17.0% of the total number of 2012 Democratic voters. In contrast, the number of Republican early voters is just 9.0% of the total 2012 Republican vote.


A Critical Error in Early Voting

By Adam Pagnucco.

On Saturday, I was given a ballot by election officials at the Wheaton early voting site that would have allowed me to vote for John Sarbanes for Congress.  The problem is that I live in Jamie Raskin’s district.  And after I posted the story on Facebook, three friends of mine said that similar things happened to them.  This incident points to a significant flaw in the early voting system that needs to be addressed.

To understand what happened, let’s review how the early voting system works.  A key difference between early voting and election day voting is that voters are allowed to use any early voting site in their county regardless of where they live.  So unlike election day voting at a precinct location, election officials at early voting sites are responsible for making sure that voters get ballots reflecting the districts in which they live.

The first step in early voting is a check-in, during which a staffer verifies a voter’s identity and gives the voter a registration slip indicating his or her precinct and district information.  Next, the voter proceeds to a table at which another staffer checks the registration slip and gives the voter an appropriate ballot.  The voter then fills out the ballot in a booth and proceeds to a scanning device, where the registration slip is collected and the ballot is inserted, scanned and retained.  Lastly, the much-desired “I Voted” stickers are disbursed.

In my case, I checked in, got a registration slip reflecting my information accurately and was given a ballot.  When I started marking the ballot, I noticed that one of my choices for Congress was John Sarbanes.  That was a problem since I don’t live in his district – I live in Congressional District 8, home of Jamie Raskin.  I returned to the ballot table and told them I had the wrong ballot.  Upon checking, the election staffer said, “Good catch,” gave me a new ballot and told me to take my old ballot to a different area.  Acting on instructions, I marked the old ballot as spoiled, folded it in half and put it in an envelope containing other spoiled ballots.  I asked the election staff what would have happened had I indeed voted for Sarbanes.  They said they didn’t know.

Once I told the story on Facebook, two of my friends told me that they were initially given the wrong ballots by staffers at early voting, but the mistakes were caught before they could bring the ballots to the voting booth.  A third friend said she was given a wrong ballot and, like me, she returned it to the staff to get a correct ballot.  This latter incident happened during the primary.

These were honest mistakes, and whenever human beings are involved in a process like this, mistakes happen.  The problem from a systemic perspective is that there is insufficient redundancy built in to prevent and correct these mistakes.  Once the ballot staffer gives a voter a ballot, there is no person other than the voter who can make sure that the ballot is the correct one.  By the time the voter approaches the scanner, there is no way to be sure that the ballot accurately reflects that voter’s districts.  And when the ballot is scanned, it’s too late to tell because there is nothing on the ballot itself identifying the precinct of the voter who cast it.  For all anyone knows, that ballot is accurately counted.  A paper recount would not find otherwise.  Worst of all, there is no way to track these mistakes.  Unless people like me report their experiences, it would be hard to know that this problem is occurring at all.

The result of all this is that an unknown number of ballots are being cast for candidates by voters who do not live in their districts.  The scale of that problem is mitigated somewhat because this is a presidential year, and the only variability in this county’s ballots occurs between the three Congressional Districts.  But in a mid-term year, there will be elections in five County Council districts and eight state legislative districts in addition to the three Congressional Districts.  There will be many ballot permutations reflecting voters who live in different configurations of these districts.  So the potential for mistakes is much higher.  Relying on individual voters to prevent these mistakes is not an adequate solution.

It’s too late to correct these errors for the ballots already cast, and unless election officials act immediately, it may be too late to clean up the process for this election.  But there is time to build safeguards into the system for the 2018 elections, during which the issue will be even more critical.  The State Board of Elections and their overseers in the General Assembly need to make sure that this problem gets fixed.


Early Voting Stats Day 1

Democracy rules! On the first day of early voting, my polling place was packed with people waiting to cast their ballot. Either people can’t wait to be done with this election or they feel strongly about their candidates, or both.

On their Twitter feed, the Maryland State Board of Elections reports that a record 125,914 people voted on the first day of early voting. That compares to just 78,409 people who voted on the first day of early voting four years ago–an increase of 60.6%. Statistics for this year are not yet available by county.

As of today, 68,377 have returned absentee ballots out of a total of 196,450 that have been sent out, so 65.2% of absentee ballots are still outstanding. The total number of people who have already voted in Maryland is 194,291.

How does this compare with 2012? There were 153,100 absentee votes four years ago, so we are currently at 44.7% of 2012’s total with Election Day 12 days away. Maryland looks set to blow way past early voting totals from 2012 as we have already reached 28.8% of the 437,600 early votes cast that year. Right now, the total votes cast as a share of the 2012 total of 3,693,600 is just 5.3%, so the vast majority of votes are still to come.


Good Solution on Early Voting

The Montgomery County Board of Elections (BOE) has agreed to reinstate the original nine early voting (EV) centers, instead of closing ones in Burtonsville and Chevy Chase to relocate them to more Republican Potomac and Brookville.

In return, the all-Democratic state legislative delegation has agreed to support legislation to open a tenth EV center in Montgomery. My guess is that this one would be in Potomac, since that location was preferred by the BOE over Brookville when they agreed to reopen the Burtonsville EV center.

Here is the communication from MCDCC:

The Montgomery County Board of Elections (BOE) voted to reinstate 8 of the original early voting centers from the 2014 election and the Wheaton Firehouse to replace the Wheaton Community Center, which is undergoing rennovation. This includes the Praisner and Lawton centers advocated by the MCDCC, County Council, and State Legislators, as well as numerous community members and non-partisan community groups. The decision means that they will submit the 9 centers to the State BOE for approval at their special meeting on Friday October 23.

A critical part of this decision is that the MCDCC and State Delegation made a commitment to submit legislation at the beginning of the Legislative Session in January to add a 10th early voting center in Montgomery County for the 2016 election. The County Council also made a commitment to establish a 10th early voting center.

Although the decision by the Board today will not be final until it is approved by the State BOE, voters in Montgomery County should be pleased with the outcome.

We will be in touch after the State BOE meeting on Friday to report on the final decision.

Darrell Anderson