Is the Change in Early Voting Locations a Partisan Move?

Today, I’m pleased to present a guest post by Adam Pagnucco:

Is This Voter Suppression?

Last week, Montgomery County’s Board of Elections voted to close early voting centers in Chevy Chase and Burtonsville and open new ones in Potomac and Brookeville. This prompted charges of voter suppression from Montgomery County Council Member Tom Hucker, who represents Burtonsville and started an online petition to overturn the decision. Hucker points out that the Board’s vote was on party lines, with a Republican majority voting for the change, and that the Burtonsville site has a significant concentration of minority voters. The Board’s Republican President, who ran for County Executive last year, claims that the change was motivated not by politics but by a desire to expand early voting to areas that have not had it.

Who’s right? Let’s look at the data.

First, let’s examine the demographic characteristics of the areas surrounding the early voting sites. For this exercise, I pulled U.S. Census data on zip codes within one mile of each site. Zip codes 20814 and 20815 apply to the Lawton Center in Chevy Chase, 20866 and 20905 apply to the Praisner Center in Burtonsville, 20854 applies to the Potomac Community Recreation Center and 20832 and 20833 apply to the Longwood Community Recreation Center in Brookeville. Following is information on race and income of the residents in these zip codes for the years 2009-2013.

White Non-Hispanic Percentage of Population

Lawton Center, Chevy Chase                                          77%
Praisner Center, Burtonsville                                        38
Potomac                                                                                       68
Brookeville/Olney                                                                  64

County Total                                                                               48

Black Non-Hispanic Percentage of Population

Lawton Center, Chevy Chase                                          4%
Praisner Center, Burtonsville                                        32
Potomac                                                                                       4
Brookeville/Olney                                                                  12

County Total                                                                               17

Hispanic Percentage of Population

Lawton Center, Chevy Chase                                          9%
Praisner Center, Burtonsville                                        9
Potomac                                                                                       7
Brookeville/Olney                                                                  9

County Total                                                                               17

Mean Household Income

Lawton Center, Chevy Chase                                          189,879
Praisner Center, Burtonsville                                        127,711
Potomac                                                                                       256,851
Brookeville/Olney                                                                  143,685

County Total                                                                               132,222

On these measures, Burtonsville stands out from the other locations. It has a lower income than the other three sites, a lower percentage of non-Hispanic whites and a higher percentage of African Americans. Its African American percentage is nearly double the county’s average. And yet, this site is targeted for closure.

Hucker’s argument is not just rooted in demographics, however. He asserts that the changes are motivated by a desire to advantage Republican voters at the expense of Democrats. Is he right? Let’s look at data on voter registration and actual voting.

For this exercise, I pulled data on voter registration as of August 2015 on all precincts within one mile of each early voting site. Here is the total number of registered voters of all parties near each site.

Registered Voters, All Parties, within one mile

Lawton Center, Chevy Chase                                          22,012
Praisner Center, Burtonsville                                        12,833
Potomac                                                                                       11,649
Brookeville/Olney                                                                  13,014

The Lawton Center is within walking distance of Downtown Bethesda, the biggest single employment location in the county, so this statistic actually understates its potential reach. The Praisner Center saw more early votes than any site in the county in the 2014 general election with the exception of Silver Spring. Any prioritization of voter access without regard to party should protect the continued operation of both sites.

Now let’s look at the Republican percentage of registered voters.

Republican Percentage of Registered Voters within one mile

Lawton Center, Chevy Chase                                          17%
Praisner Center, Burtonsville                                        16
Potomac                                                                                       20
Brookeville/Olney                                                                  29

County Total                                                                               19

In terms of Republican registration percentage, not only do the two new sites exceed the two closed sites, they also exceed the county average.

Registration is only part of the story. Let’s look at the percentage of the vote received by Republican Governor Larry Hogan in last year’s general election in precincts within one mile of each site.

Hogan Percentage of Gubernatorial General Vote within one mile

Lawton Center, Chevy Chase                                          33%
Praisner Center, Burtonsville                                        33
Potomac                                                                                       43
Brookeville/Olney                                                                  55

County Total                                                                               37

Again, the GOP enjoys a net advantage. The Brookeville area is one of the few parts of the county in which Larry Hogan scored an outright win, and – guess what? – the Republican-majority Board of Elections has given it an early voting site.

U.S. Census and voter data show that the early voting site change on net has improved voting convenience for Republicans and some groups of white and high-income residents while decreasing voting convenience for African Americans and lower-income residents in East County. The voting trends near the sites suggest that this may help Governor Hogan’s performance in the next election.

Is this voter suppression? I guess that depends on your definition of “suppression.” But since U.S. Census and voting data are publicly available – and the latter is held by the Board of Elections – it’s hard to believe that the board was acting blindly. Suppression or not, this has the look of manipulation for partisan gain.


Gloom from Floreen and Leventhal

Though Montgomery County Councilmembers George Leventhal and Nancy Floreen voted for the County’s bus-rapid transit (BRT) plan, both poured lots of cold water on the idea at a transit symposium at White Flint recently. In the process, both made statements that would likely surprise County voters regarding future taxes and spending.

Annual Purple Line Operation Payment?

Councilmember Nancy Floreen mentioned that that Montgomery County might have to make an annual payment toward the operational costs of the Purple Line. This ongoing cost would be in addition to the millions that the County has pledged to the light rail line’s construction. News to me, and suspect others, who expected the State to cover these costs.

Taxes Headed Up

Councilmember George Leventhal said that County Executive Ike Leggett would propose a “massive” tax increase in the forthcoming year just to meet current commitments in the context of explaining why he believes that the BRT system is not affordable.

Leventhal Makes Anti-Purple Line Arguments

Weirdly, George then went on to make a string of arguments frequently used against the Purple Line . . . but against bus-rapid transit. The concern about cost was particularly bizarre as BRT is far cheaper than light rail.

George also explained that we could not be sure that the hoped for development would come if we built BRT. Though the Purple Line entails much greater financial risk, George has brushed aside concerns regarding his favored project.

Perhaps most oddly, George argued the incompetence surrounding the Silver Spring Transit Center meant that people would not trust the County to build and operate BRT. Additionally, he explained that all of the trees that would be torn down and construction associated with the Purple Line would further turn people against transit.

Not exactly a vote of confidence in the County’s government and strange since BRT entails much less risk for more gain than the Purple Line. Why did George or Nancy vote for the plan that they now are now publicly undermining in the first place?


AU Says No to Trigger Warnings

The Chronicle of Higher Education covered the decision by American University’s Faculty Senate to pass a resolution against “the use of ‘trigger warnings’ to shield students from instructional materials they might find disturbing.” Here is the text of the Faculty Senate resolution:

For hundreds of years, the pursuit of knowledge has been at the center of university life. Unfettered discourse, no matter how controversial, inconvenient, or uncomfortable, is a condition necessary to that pursuit. American University stands in this tradition, as stated in section 4 of the Faculty Manual. (

Freedom of speech–protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution– undergirds the cherished principle of academic freedom. As limits, either subtle or explicit, are increasingly placed on intellectual freedom in venues of public discourse, the academy is committed to the full expression of ideas.

American University is committed to protecting and championing the right to freely communicate ideas—without censorship—and to study material as it is written, produced, or stated, even material that some members of our community may find disturbing or that provokes uncomfortable feelings. This freedom is an integral part of the learning experience and an obligation from which we cannot shrink.

As laws and individual sensitivities may seek to restrict, label, warn, or exclude specific content, the academy must stand firm as a place that is open to diverse ideas and free expression. These are standards and principles that American University will not compromise.

Faculty may advise students before exposing them to controversial readings and other materials that are part of their curricula. However, the Faculty Senate does not endorse offering “trigger warnings” or otherwise labeling controversial material in such a way that students construe it as an option to “opt out” of engaging with texts or concepts, or otherwise not participating in intellectual inquiries.

Faculty should direct students who experience personal difficulties from exposure to controversial issues to resources available at American University’s support-services offices.

In issuing this statement, the Faculty Senate affirms that shielding students from controversial material will deter them from becoming critical thinkers and responsible citizens. Helping them learn to process and evaluate such material fulfills one of the most important responsibilities of higher education.

Good decision.

(Note: American University is my employer but that, of course, does not mean that it endorses any positions taken on this blog. Nor the reverse unless otherwise indicated.)


Ervin Attacks Role of Money Along with Gender and Racial Bias As She Withdraws from CD8 Race


The following is Valerie Ervin’s email announcing her withdrawal from the congressional race for the Eighth Congressional District

I wanted you to be among the first to hear that I’ve decided not to continue my run for Congress in 2016.

It was a hard decision that kept me up many nights. Like many women of all backgrounds across our district who worry about how to pay the bills, send their kids to college, or take care of an ailing parent, my sleepless nights were motivated by money—or more accurately, the lack of it.

You see, I’m not wealthy. I grew up working class and thanks to good union jobs, I’ve been able to work hard and achieve the middle class dream. I’ve been able to buy a home, take care of my needs, and to put away a little for a rainy day and retirement. But like many of you, I need to work to keep up. Unfortunately, our current political system doesn’t make much room for everyday Americans like me—especially women, people of color, and the non-wealthy—to compete on a level playing field.

In politics today, fundraising is the sign of a campaign’s viability. Not your ideas about how to serve your constituents, not your track record of service, not even the groundswell of grassroots support—but your ability to raise money. And unfortunately, I just haven’t been able to raise enough.

It’s no surprise that 50% of members of Congress are millionaires.  A Center for Responsive Politics study found that it takes 18 American households to equal the value of a member of Congress’ household.

Right now in Maryland, we see male candidates for office routinely raising more money than the women in those races. We can and must continue to recruit and train more women and people of color to run for office. It’s the only way we can create an inclusive democracy that speaks to the needs of all citizens.

I’m pulling back the curtain on our political system because we all need to consider what role we’re willing to play to improve it. I decided to run because I believe that more people like me need to be the decision-makers. We need more elected officials who put our interests, concerns and needs on par with the wealthy.

During my brief campaign, I’ve been able to meet hundreds of working people who are struggling to provide for their families and meet their financial obligations. My message of the need to create economic stability for Maryland’s families resonated with many communities who are facing greater financial pressure while trying to stretch a shrinking paycheck. I’m as committed as ever to ensuring that the voices of everyone shapes the direction of District 8, the state of Maryland and our nation. And doing so means we’ve got to build better pathways to an inclusive democracy where everyone has a shot at winning political campaigns, despite their access to wealth.

I can’t thank you enough for your encouragement and support of my campaign. I ran for Congress for all of us. Know that my future endeavors will continue to create more room for all of us to prosper and have a say in the political decisions that affect our lives. Stay tuned!



Chevy Chase Circus Continues

John Bickerman Loses a Vote and Walks Out

The Town of Chevy Chase gave the U.S. a preview in miniature of what a Donald Trump presidency might look like as Coteva CEO and Mayor Al Lang lost control of last week’s council meeting, which “devolved into chaos” as reported in Bethesda Now. The press did a fine job of covering the raucous and divisive meeting but I thought I’d add to the information publicly available.

Bickerman Walks Out in Middle of Meeting

As reported and shown above in the video, Vice Mayor John Bickerman walked out in a snit in the middle of the meeting when he lost a vote 3-2 over whether write-in candidates should have to register at least one week before the election. As one resident put it, “John appeared to pick up his marbles and leave, like a little kid who did not get his way in the playground.”

Bickerman’s behavior captured attention, as he interrupted, talked at length, and took repeated umbrage. At one point, he spoke sharply to Lang, telling him something along the lines of “take your hands off of me” when Lang touched his arm gently, likely to encourage him to calm  down.

Readers may find it hard to believe that Bickerman makes his living as a mediator. He currently teaches “negotiation and mediation” at Cornell University and has taught at Georgetown University Legal Center in the past.

Will Lang Cave to Bickerman, Cecere and Albert?

This issue of registering write-in candidates in advance has become a burning issue because of the success of a stealth write-in candidate. Supporters of now Councilmember Fred Cecere kept his write-in campaign a secret in order to dupe other voters into thinking that the two incumbents were unopposed and they needn’t bother to vote. Councilmembers Lang and Bickerman are aligned with Cecere.

Word on the street is that Bickerman also threatened Lang as he left, saying that Lang (who had voted in favor of the write-in candidate registration requirement) had better fix this (i.e. change his vote) or Bickerman would resign from the Council.

So is self-styled decisive CEO Lang going to cave to Bickerman, Cecere and Albert? Or stand by his far from radical decision that town residents have a right to know who is running for office at least one week before the election?

It’s hard to know as Mr. Transparency had the Council vote on the Town joining the Chamber of Commerce (!) without any advance notice to the Council or to residents. Several residents have already expressed discomfort with the process and the decision on the Town’s unofficial listserv.

Ethics, Schmethics as Bickerman Changes Story

As part of his criticism at the meeting of the Joint Election and Ethics Boards report, Bickerman argued that the “every campaign is secret,” so it is not a good idea to take steps to ensure that all residents have the opportunity to know who is running for office.  Um, no.  Candidates should not be able to keep their identity a secret in order to dupe their neighbors.

Bickerman also continued to deny any fiduciary duty to correct the public information that was provided by the Town as regards to the candidates. However, he said unusually little when Barry Hager, a member of the Ethics Committee, raised the issue of whether he thought he would need to correct similarly inaccurate financial documents issued by the Town.

After the election, Bickerman told neighbors that his participation in the write-in campaign was less than people thought but declined to detail his participation. The twitter account of the meeting reports, that Bickerman now says he “was not that involved.” His ardor in fighting the adoption of a one-week write-in notification (same as the State) and continued secrecy might inspire disbelief in his effort to minimize further his participation. And if he was not involved in a meaningful way, wouldn’t he have just said what he did in the first place?


From the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) Commissioned Report on the DLC

The Department of Liquor Control commissioned an outside report on their business. Here is some of what they found:

People are Shopping Elsewhere

In polite language, the report explains that sales in Montgomery County are below those expected for a wealthy, educated area with a tolerant attitude toward alcohol (pp. 14-16):

Overall, liquor sales in Maryland are below the benchmarked average. . . . Besides tourists and other travelers who purchase in Washington DC, for reasons of convenience or price, Montgomery County liquor customers may also purchase their alcohol in the District of Columbia rather than the County. It is hoped that this may offer an opportunity to the DLC to recapture some business without increasing consumption.

“Recapture some business” is a nice way to say people are buying alcohol in DC or Virginia rather than Montgomery. No wonder when prices are so much lower there. How the DLC plans to recapture business without price reductions so they are competitive remains a mystery to me. It also illustrates the tension–to put it mildly–between the DLC’s desire to make a profit and “control” the use of alcohol.

High Costs, Low Profit

Comparatively, the DLC has high operating expenses among benchmarked control jurisdictions. . . . Relative to other control states, the DLC has low gross profit margins.

Why is Montgomery County in this business?



Gov. Hogan Tried to Cut Cancer Research Funding

Gov. Larry Hogan is mercifully making a great recovery from cancer after undergoing chemotherapy. I’m sure that everyone is very happy to hear the news and appreciates the joy with which the Governor and his family must have greeted it.

Beyond success in his personal battle against cancer, the Governor has used his illness to build support for those fighting cancer and to raise money for cancer research:

HoganStrongFacing cancer and using his office to rally support to fight the disease is about the best example of making lemonade from lemons that I can imagine. The Washington Post covered more of Hogan’s positive activity in a story today.

Cancer research, however, requires more than private support. Strong governmental support for medical research, such as at NIH here in Montgomery County, has been critical to medical advances in the fight against cancer and other diseases.

The Post neglected to mention that Gov. Hogan included a permanent 55% cut in state funding for cancer research grants in his budget proposal–a drop from $13 million in $5.8 million per year. Roughly 80% of the grants usually go to the University of Maryland, College Park with 20% directed at Johns Hopkins University.

Over the eight years that I imagine Gov. Hogan would like to spend in office, his proposal would have reduced spending on cancer research by $57.6 million. The General Assembly, controlled by the Democrats, fought successfully to put the money back in the budget.

It’s great the Gov. Hogan has raised funds for cancer research–a laudable use of his great personal challenge in fighting cancer, which he has handled with grace. But his budget proposal–a blueprint for his goals for Maryland–suggested other priorities.


Election Board and Ethics Commission Issues Report with Devastating Criticism of Lang and Bickerman

The Joint Committee of the Town Election Board and Ethics Commission on the 2015 Election in the Town of Chevy Chase has released its report. It contains devastating criticism of Mayor Al Lang and Vice Mayor John Bickerman’s conduct. As Mayor Lang has not so far posted the Report to the Town website, I have excerpted portions of the report below, which is now available in full at Bethesda Beat:

Lang and Bickerman Violated Fiduciary Responsibility

The Joint Committee concludes that

  • both Mr. Lang and Mr. Bickerman knew that the Town government had informed the voters that the election was “uncontested”;
  • both Mr. Lang and Mr. Bickerman knew before the election about the stealth write-in campaign in support of Dr. Cecere, and therefore that the election was in fact contested;
  • neither Mr. Lang nor Mr. Bickerman took actions to correct the record and inform Town voters in general that the election was in fact contested.

Residents of the Town have contended in hearings before the Joint Committee that Town Council members have at least a fiduciary, if not a legal, responsibility to accurately inform residents about facts pertinent to the government of the Town. Mr. Bickerman has at times denied such a fiduciary responsibility. Yet it would seem unlikely that he or any Council member would argue that he/she is at liberty to allow a materially misleading statement made to the public at large about the finances of the Town to remain unchallenged or uncorrected on the public record if the Council member knew the information to be untrue. Surely the duty to correct misleading statements relating to elections that determine the governance of the Town is as great as the duty to correct misstatements about the Town’s finances.

As for a specific legal basis for arguing that a Council member has a fiduciary responsibility to the Town public, Article 6 of the Maryland Constitution’s Declaration of Rights states that “all persons invested with the Legislative or Executive powers of Government are the Trustees of the Public, and, as such, accountable for their conduct.” Since the Town of Chevy Chase is chartered under the Constitution and laws of Maryland, that applies to Town councilmembers. Indeed, the Oath of Office for Council members says, in part, “I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the State of Maryland, and support the Constitution and Laws thereof…” And the concept of being a “Trustee” of the “Public” is at its heart a statement that government officials have a fiduciary responsibility with regard to the public.

Undermined Legitimacy and Efficacy of Town Actions

Another aspect of the stealth campaign that related to the nature of Town politics is why, given the range of complaints and criticisms of the incumbent Town government, the supporters of the stealth campaign did not go to the electorate openly and seek a change in the composition of the Council? A traditional view would hold that this is what elections are meant to be about—a robust exchange of views and visions leading to a democratic choice that shows the preferences of a majority of the electorate. Failing to take that open route and to participate in the traditional public campaign process has cast doubt on the motivations of those involved in the stealth campaign by many Town voters who feel as if they were misled about the contested nature of the election, and has obscured, in the eyes of many Town citizens, whatever electoral mandate the victors sought or believe themselves to have won.

And our neighboring communities, such as those in the coalitions our Town Council earlier played a key role in organizing to constrain overdevelopment in Bethesda, need to know that they were dealing with trustworthy partners. It is important to consider whether the stealth write-in campaign may suggest to Town citizens that they should be wary and skeptical of their neighbors, or whether it may have suggested to our neighboring communities in Montgomery County and the Greater Washington region.

Call for Further Investigation and Even Legal Action

If Mayor Lang and Vice Mayor Bickerman continue to refuse to respond to the June 5 letter of inquiry, the Joint Committee requests that the Town Council assess the legal basis for the refusal and consider whether responses should be compelled through legal process or other means. Also, Mayor Lang and Vice Mayor Bickerman should be reminded of the responsibility to preserve all records—including electronic communications on office and personal devices and accounts—that may be relevant to further inquiry or legal action.

“We believe that Council Members Lang and Bickerman should provide members of our Town with complete details of their involvement in the stealth campaign. Otherwise, it is likely that the obvious mistrust and anger toward them will continue, and likely frustrate the important work of the Council. Only by providing this information to the electorate can the Town begin to heal.”

UPDATE: The Town has now posted the report on the Town website in the wake of its appearance on Bethesda Beat.