By Adam Pagnucco.
As has been previously written both here and in Bethesda Magazine, Council Member Nancy Floreen faces two hurdles in getting on the ballot as an independent candidate for Executive. First, there is the question of whether she can change her registration from Democratic to unaffiliated in time to access the ballot as a non-Democrat. That issue is playing out now. Second, she faces a petition signature requirement. That’s going to be tough.
State law requires that an independent candidate seeking to get on the ballot for a general election must gather a number of voter signatures equal to the lesser of 10,000 or 1% of registered voters by the first Monday in August (which is August 6th this year). In Floreen’s case, the relevant number is around 6,500. That might seem doable EXCEPT that state law is very exacting on how petition signatures are evaluated by boards of election. Among the requirements are the following.
Petition circulators do not have to be registered voters or even residents of Maryland, but they must be at least age 18.
Circulators may be paid but petition signers may not be paid.
Circulators must sign an affidavit on each petition signature page attesting to the following:
All identifying information given by the circulator is true and correct;
Signatures were placed on the petition in the circulator’s presence; and
Based on the circulator’s best knowledge and belief, each signature on the page is genuine and each signer is a registered voter in Maryland.
The circulator must sign and date the affidavit. Any signature on the page that is dated after the circulator’s affidavit is invalid.
Smudged and/or illegible signatures are rejected so signing in pencil is discouraged.
A voter may not sign a petition more than once.
Voters may not sign on behalf of their spouses.
Signers must provide the full month, day and year of signing. The circulator should not fill in that information unless the signer asks for help. Ditto marks are prohibited.
The signer’s current permanent residence address must be provided. Business addresses are not permitted. Post office boxes are permitted only if there is no street and house number designation for the voter’s residence and only if the post office box address is on record with the election office.
There are very specific requirements on how the signer’s name should appear. According to the state’s FAQ document:
The name either has to match the registration list or include all parts of the name required in the statute. Section 6-203 of the Election Law Article states “To sign a petition, an individual shall: (1) sign the individual’s name as it appears on the statewide voter registration list or the individual’s surname of registration and at least one full given name and the initials of any other names.”
For example, if a voter is registered as Margaret Hall Smith, it is permissible for her to sign as Margaret H. Smith or M. Hall Smith. But M.H. Smith or Margaret Smith is not permissible and will be invalidated. Additionally, the use of her nickname, Peggy Smith or her married name Mrs. John Smith will be invalidated. If a voters’ registered name has a suffix (i.e. Jr., Sr., III, etc.) the signature will not be invalidated if the signer fails to include it on the petition.
The State Board of Elections’ procedures manual for petitions provides further discussion of this.
If this seems daunting, well, it is. Consider the recent experience of MoCo’s greatest petition circulator of all time, Robin Ficker, who has gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures over the last four-plus decades. It took Ficker more than a year to gather over 18,000 signatures for his 2016 term limits petition, of which 12,573 were ultimately verified by the county’s Board of Elections. Yes, others besides Ficker gathered some of the signatures, but Ficker supervised the effort. If the greatest of all time has an error rate of approximately one third, what would the error rate be for any new or paid circulators retained by Floreen? She is going to need a LOT more than 6,500 signatures to survive scrutiny by the board of elections and, possibly, the courts to make it on the ballot. Plus the fact that the petition is due on August 6 – less than a month away – puts immense pressure on the whole process.
Nancy Floreen needs a great election lawyer. Now. She needs a significant number of circulators who are trained in the State of Maryland’s petition requirements. Now. They need to be on the streets gathering signatures. Now. And she needs many thousands of dollars to pay for all this. Now.
Or else she won’t be on the ballot.