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.


Leventhal Blasts the Dumbest Lobbying Campaign of All Time

By Adam Pagnucco.

On the evening of October 20, a representative of Clark Enterprises (Bob Eisenberg) appeared before the Montgomery County Council to testify on the Downtown Bethesda Master Plan.  Clark has been involved in a dispute with its next-door neighbor, fellow developer Brookfield Properties, over Brookfield’s plan to erect a new building on top of the Bethesda Metro Station.  Clark hired PR firm KOFA Public Affairs to wage a campaign to block the new building that accused Council Members of being tools of developers and criticized their salaries.  Accordingly, we labeled it “The Dumbest Lobbying Campaign of All Time” since even dimwitted lobbyists understand that elected officials don’t respond well to attacks on their integrity.

Above is the reaction of Council Member George Leventhal to KOFA’s insult-laden campaign.  Hide the children, folks!



On Term Limits

This year’s term limits vote is the hot local topic of debate in Montgomery County. Or it would be, if either the pro or anti-term limits campaigns had any money to broadcast their message. Voters will largely have to decide for themselves whether they want term limits for the County Executive and County Council.

Political scientists tend to oppose term limits as anti-democratic. The exception is that presidential term limits often seen as preventing an unhealthy concentration of power. In emerging democracies, presidential term limits are increasingly seen as a good means to promote the rotation of power.

So why are so many Montgomery County voters ready to approve term limits that anti-democratically limit their own rights to reelect people to public office?

The Selectorate

A key reason is that many people don’t feel that they have much say over their government. This isn’t just hot air. Unless you vote in the critical Democratic primary that effectively decides elections for all partisan offices, you don’t.

Consider that the Census estimated Montgomery’s voting-age population at 788,043. (Note: this figure includes non-citizens, so it is an  inflated estimate of the potential voters.) Among the eligible population, 630,355 were registered voters including 354,078 registered Democrats at the time of the 2014 primary elections.

Only 88,007 people participated in the hotly contested Democratic primary for County Executive. That’s just 11% of the voting-age population, 14% of registered votes, and 25% of registered Democrats. It’s also just 33% of 2014 general election voters, and 19% of 2012 general election voters.

Moreover, the Democratic primary selectorate is skewed heavily toward the more Democratic areas of the County. It’s no accident that so many councilmembers live very close together in the southeastern corner of the County–and most people never cast a vote in the key election to choose them.

Beyond the overwhelming strength of the Democrats, Republicans offer very weak alternatives. As a result, the general election, held in the lower turnout midterm election, feels more like a kabuki ritual even if the outcome accurately ratifies the preference of the voters for Democratic over Republican nominees.

The Fantasy

The great advantage of term limits compared to the status quo is that every voter can imagine that the new Council will be more responsive to whatever their political bent–even though some of the major dreams advocated are contradictory.

Robin Ficker touts lower taxes as County unions envision a Council  willing to raise their pay higher. Civic associations imagine a Council less in thrall to developers while Chamber dreams of a more business friendly Council.

These claims cannot all be true but that doesn’t prevent voters from comparing their fantasy government to the much less glamorous reality. As the same people will choose new councilmembers by the same process, change may be more elusive than imagined.


Political Scientists Predict the Outcome

PollyVote surveyed 673 political scientists over the past four days and asked them to predict the outcome of the election in their state. These forecasts suggest that Clinton will win with 358 electoral votes with just 180 going to Trump:


Here are the predictions for the swingier states. The second column is the number of political scientists who responded to the survey. The third column is the predicted chance that Clinton will carry the state and the final column is the share of the two-party vote.


Needless to say, Maryland is not a swing state with the 26 respondents gauging the likelihood of Clinton winning at 100% and guessing her share of the two-party vote at 67.0%.


Term Limits Opposition in Shambles

By Adam Pagnucco.

With the challenge to Robin Ficker’s petition signatures having failed in court, the opposition to term limits has hit a new low.  Opponents have less than three weeks left and over 400,000 prospective general election voters to reach.  Tick tock says the clock.

How do you win on term limits?  Here’s a theory: voters will vote in accordance with their perceived self-interest.  Whoever wishes to sway them must address their self-interest and take account of how they see it.  Failure to do so means losing the argument.

So far, the opponents’ arguments against term limits seem to be that they are unfair to elected officials, that Robin Ficker is a baaaaad man (he is), that county Republicans favor them, that nativist extremists were involved in gathering petition signatures (they were), that Nancy Navarro would be denied three full terms under Ficker’s language, that Donald Trump favors term limits and that term limits supporters are like Brexit supporters.

Well, OK.  But what do any of these arguments have to do with the voters’ self-interest?

And then this happened.

“Oh wait a minute.  Never mind, voters.  Forget about what we told you.  We are going to court so you won’t be able to vote!  What’s that?  You will be voting after all?  Oh.  Well, remember what we were saying…?”

Adding to the above is that most prominent opponents of term limits have a personal self-interest in the issue.  Several incumbent Council Members have spoken publicly against them.  Tom Moore, the opponents’ organizer, is a former Rockville City Council Member who ran for County Council in 2014 and might do so again.  Almost all of the scanty funding for the anti-term limits committee came from Council Members, their staff, their family and a non-profit receiving county money.  Are there any non-politicians (aside from Charter Review Commission Chair Paul Bessel) who are willing to work to defeat term limits?

Ficker, on the other hand, does have a narrative aimed at voters.  His sales pitch is that, according to him, current elected officials are “self-serving” by awarding themselves large salary increases and voting for big tax hikes filled with goodies for interest groups that help them get reelected.  The costs of all this are passed on to taxpayers.  Ficker proposes breaking this cycle by instituting term limits and getting new people elected with “fresh ideas.”  Put aside for a moment that there are numerous problems with his theory, including that there is already substantial competition in county elections and that the 2014 public financing law could promote even more competition.  Ficker is speaking directly to the pocketbook interests of voters while the other side is currently not.

Right now, all the momentum is with term limits supporters as many factors are working in their favor – especially the council’s Giant Tax Hike.  Opponents are going uphill, with a tremendous amount of work to do and very little time.  At this point in the 2000 term limits battle, legendary Duncan operative Jerry “Darth Vader” Pasternak had put together a massive coalition to fight Ficker, and the opponents ultimately won by just eight points.  In contrast, little of this work appears to have been done this time around. The opponents’ Facebook page has just 69 likes (FAR less than the 4,699 likes on Ficker’s page) and there is no money for a mail budget.  The opponents are relying on the Apple Ballot, the Democratic sample ballot and prayer.  Compare this to the 2000 effort, during which Darth Pasternak’s Empire did at least three mailings plus 130,000 robocalls.

Paul Bessel’s scholarly dissertation on term limits is helpful, but is anyone other than a handful of insomniac college professors going to read it?  Opponents need a direct, relevant message.  Something like this:

Come on, voters!  Is it really in your self-interest to disenfranchise yourselves?  Do you want to prevent yourselves from reelecting an official whom you believe is doing a good job?  Do you benefit from a government that is run by bureaucrats and lobbyists?  Do you really think a County Council jam-packed with lame ducks is going to act on your behalf?  What exactly are YOU getting out of all this?

There’s nothing here about Ficker, Help Save Maryland, Trump or Brexit.  It’s about the voters, stupid!  Just like it’s supposed to be.

Term limits opponents need message, resources and scale – and they need those things yesterday.  Because at this moment, Ficker is on pace to win, perhaps by double digits.


Council Members Circle the Wagons on Term Limits

By Adam Pagnucco.

The No on B Committee, the ballot question committee opposing Montgomery County term limits, has filed its first campaign finance report with the State Board of Elections.  There are no surprises here: most of the contributions it has raised have come from incumbent members of the Montgomery County Council.

The committee reported raising $9,125 through October 9.  Of that amount, $6,000 (66%) has come from the campaign accounts of Council Members.  George Leventhal  was the lead contributor, donating $1,500.  Roger Berliner, Sidney Katz, Nancy Navarro and Hans Riemer contributed $1,000 each while Marc Elrich contributed $500.  Other contributions of note came from George Leventhal’s father, Carl ($500), Marc Elrich’s Chief of Staff, Dale Tibbitts ($500) and Casa de Maryland ($1,000).  In total, contributions from Council Members and their staff accounted for 72% of money raised by the committee.

After paying attorney Jonathan Shurberg $5,000 for his work on the unsuccessful court case to get term limits thrown off the ballot, and paying other minor expenses, the committee reported a final balance of $4,024.49.

Another committee formed to support term limits, Voters for Montgomery County Term Limits, reported raising $2,890 and finishing with $2,683.27 in the bank.  Developer Charles K. Nulsen III contributed $1,000.  There have been rumors of developer support for term limits, which would be interesting considering that the anti-development Montgomery County Civic Federation also supports term limits.  But Nulsen’s lone contribution signals that so far the real estate community is not fully engaged.

In 2012, 460,885 MoCo residents voted in the general election.  A similar number could be voting this year.  What’s clear is that neither committee has the resources to get its message out to the electorate.  Since many underlying factors favor the passage of term limits, the failure of both sides to raise money is a net benefit for supporters.


Australian MPs Pass Motion: Trump is a “Revolting Slug”

The BBC reports that Parliament of New South Wales, the largest state by far in our close ally Australia, has passed a motion condemning Donald Trump and calling him a “revolting slug:”

The parliament of New South Wales, Australia has passed a motion calling US presidential candidate Donald Trump a “revolting slug” unfit for office.

It condemned “the misogynist, hateful comments” it said had been made by Mr Trump about women and minorities. . . .

It said: “This house… agrees with those who have described Mr Trump as a ‘revolting slug’.”

“It’s clear that all reasonable and decent people find Donald Trump’s behaviour obnoxious and that the world is hoping American voters reject his politics of hate,” Mr Buckingham said in a statement.

This was as mean as they could get without having the words struck down for being inappropriate in Parliament but somehow seems just right–a marvelous and apt description of the Republican nominee.

Needless to say, motions like these are highly irregular. While foreigners often have strong preferences about who we elect, it is unheard of for foreign parliaments to pass motions all but begging the American people not to elect someone.

Trump supporters, who are remarkably quiet about Vladimir Putin and Russia’s interference in our election, may nonetheless resent this resolution by representatives in a free and friendly democracy. But many of his supporters simultaneously also believe that Trump will win and the election is rigged, so maybe they’ll manage.

But, of course, Australians might feel less of a need to weigh in if more Republicans took responsibility for helping make sure that Trump gets nowhere near the White House. Here in Maryland, almost all Republicans remain for the revolting slug.