Tag Archives: Adam Pagnucco

Could Ficker Win a Three-Way Race for Executive?

By Adam Pagnucco.

There is much condemnation of Council Member Nancy Floreen among Democratic activists for leaving the party and launching an independent run for Executive.  Some of the outrage is related to party loyalty.  Some of it is related to support for the apparent Democratic primary winner, Marc Elrich.  And some of it is related to Floreen’s record in office and historic support by the business community.  Those are all value judgments best left to the readers.  But one concern can actually be evaluated with data – the notion that a Floreen candidacy could enable GOP candidate Robin Ficker to come up the middle and squeak out a victory.  Could that actually happen?

Ficker, who has a long and infamous history in the county, has been running for office since the 1970s.  He was actually elected to a District 15 House of Delegates seat in 1978, a decision reversed by the voters four years later.  Since then, he has run for offices of all kinds and placed numerous charter amendments on the ballot.  Two of his charter amendments – a property tax limitation measure in 2008 and a term limits measure in 2016 – were passed by county voters.

Robin Ficker’s official House of Delegates picture from 1978.  Forty years later, could he be headed to elected office again?

First, let’s look at Ficker’s electoral history since the 1990s.  He has run ten times and lost on every occasion.  In every race, he has been a Republican except for 2006, when he ran as an independent for County Executive.  (Twelve years later, that’s what Nancy Floreen is doing.)

Besides all the losing, the thing that stands out here is Ficker’s unpopularity in the Republican Party.  He has entered six contested GOP primaries since 1994 and lost five of them.  The only time he had opposition and won was when he ran in the 2009 County Council District 4 special election and defeated two no-name Republicans who barely campaigned.  The lesson here is that when Republicans have an alternative to Ficker who is not a Democrat, they tend to vote for someone else.

Even Republicans are reluctant to buy what Ficker is selling.  Photo credit: Getty Images, John W. McDonough.

When he did make it to general elections, Ficker earned vote percentages ranging from 34% to 41%.  But most of those elections occurred in Upcounty districts where Republicans are a much larger percentage of the electorate than the county as a whole.

Now let’s look at the performances of GOP candidates for County Executive over the last five general elections.

One of the untold stories in MoCo elections is the recent decline in electoral performance by Democratic nominees in MoCo Executive general elections.  From 1998 through 2006, the Republican nominee did not crack 30%.  In the last two elections, the Republican got 34% of the vote.  For the most part, these were protest votes as the Republican candidates had no money, did not campaign and were not expected by anyone to win.  Another thing to note is that the only one of these elections that had an independent candidate was 2006, when Ficker ran against Ike Leggett and GOP nominee Chuck Floyd.  Ficker got just 9% of the vote, another sign of his unpopularity with both Republicans and independents.

Finally, let’s consider turnout by party in MoCo mid-term general elections.

Over the years, Democratic turnout percentage has edged up gradually, independent turnout has increased and Republican turnout has collapsed.  At some point, it’s reasonable to expect that independent turnout might exceed the GOP.

For Ficker to win, he would need to hold onto all the GOP votes, win more than 70% of independents and have Floreen and Elrich split everyone else exactly down the middle.  That would result in Ficker getting 34% of the vote and Floreen and Elrich each getting 33%.  That’s extremely unlikely for two reasons.  First, as detailed above, Ficker is weak among GOP voters and Republicans and independents would have a viable alternative in Floreen.  Second, for this scenario to work, almost half of all Democrats would have to vote against their own party’s nominee to keep Elrich at 33%.  It’s easier to see a path to victory for Floreen, who could win by getting half the Republicans, all the independents and roughly 28% of the Democrats.

Just to be clear, we are skeptical that anyone can defeat a Democratic nominee in a MoCo countywide election.  But whatever the ramifications of a possible Floreen independent run, we’re pretty sure that one of them will not be a victory by Robin Ficker.

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Is Ficker Using Public Financing to Promote His Law Practice?

By Adam Pagnucco.

County Executive candidate Robin Ficker is enrolled in the county’s public financing program and has announced that he has qualified for $231,185 in public matching funds.  Those funds are supposed to be used to finance his campaign for office.  But his Facebook ads raise the question of whether he is also using them to promote his law practice.

Ficker has run at least three political Facebook ads from his Robin Ficker Law Offices page.

The content of the ads is unquestionably political.  But the Facebook page is a mixed bag.  It advertises his services as a criminal defense lawyer and has his business phone number.  It also offers a combination of political content and promotion of Ficker’s legal work.

To be fair, Ficker’s ads do not advertise the legal posts.   But whenever a voter sees one of his political ads, they see “Robin Ficker Law Offices” at the top.

Maryland COMAR 33.13.10.03 prohibits the use of campaign funds for “the personal use or the personal benefit of a candidate.”  Montgomery County COMCOR 16.21.01.05 prohibits the use of public financing funds for “personal use.”  Whether Ficker is running afoul of these regulations is a matter for the authorities.  But if he wants to avoid this issue entirely, Ficker should establish a political Facebook page that is separate from his business.  That’s what other candidates do and Ficker should do the same.

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MoCo Democrats Reveal Preferred Directions for the County

By Adam Pagnucco.

Lots of attention has been paid to who will win the MoCo Democratic Primary for Executive.  At this point, it appears to be Council Member Marc Elrich.  But much less attention has been paid to something equally important: the voice of the voters.  In this primary, MoCo Democrats spoke out loud and clear about their preferred directions for the future of the county.

The Executive race is like no other in MoCo.  The office may not be as powerful as the County Council on paper, but its holder is THE leader and spokesman for the county and sets the tone and direction of the county going forward.  Voters understand that.  And they scrutinize the message and vision of the Executive candidates to a much greater extent than others running for local office.

In this primary, there were six candidates for Executive.  Each had enough resources to be heard.  And as a group, they sent three kinds of messages to the voters.  By choosing between these three messages, the voters indicated their preferred directions for the county’s future.

Status Quo (23% of the vote)

Council Members Roger Berliner and George Leventhal ran on their records in office and argued that they merited a promotion to Executive.  Berliner and Leventhal were arguably the two most effective legislators on the County Council.  Both showed substantial skill at passing a large variety of bills, including difficult ones like Berliner’s bill to protect street trees and Leventhal’s bill to prevent unilateral sales of county property by the Executive.  The two served a combined twenty-four years as committee chairs and each was elected Council President twice.  Their records were not just their own, but were also essentially those of the council itself.  Boiled down to its basic nature, their message was, “I’m an experienced leader and you can count on me to continue the county’s success.”

Berliner and Leventhal ran on their records as Council Members in their mail.

In many years, this kind of strategy would have worked.  MoCo Democrats tend to respect effective elected service.  But this was not one of those years as Berliner and Leventhal combined to get 23% of the vote.  More than three-quarters of Democrats opted for change of one kind or another.

Progressive Plus Anti-Developer Direction (29% of the vote)

Despite being in elected office continuously for 31 years, Council Member Marc Elrich ran as a change candidate.  He argued that the county needed a more progressive social justice direction that would help renters, vulnerable people and those living in and close to poverty.  He was especially focused on closing the achievement gap in public schools and instituting the most progressive environmental standards in the nation.  At the same time, he lambasted developers as “the special interest with too much influence over the government” and vowed to “hold developers accountable for providing the resources necessary to maintain our quality of life.”

Elrich’s comments about developers on his website and in email are in line with the message he has used for decades.

This wasn’t just Elrich’s campaign; almost the entire progressive movement in MoCo lined up behind him and did everything they could to get him elected.  The result was 29% of the vote.

Competitive Direction (48% of the vote)

The three non-Council Members – businessman David Blair, former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow and Delegate Bill Frick – had very different biographies but they had similar campaign messages, especially on the economy.  All three agreed that the county’s economic competitiveness is slipping and must be restored to fund the kinds of progressive priorities favored by all the candidates, and most of the voters.

Blair, Krasnow and Frick made economic competitiveness the focus of their campaigns in their mail and websites.

Blair, Krasnow and Frick combined to receive 48% of the vote with essentially the same message on the economy.  The Executive election revealed that the group of voters wanting economic competitiveness and tax restraint is the largest faction in the county’s Democratic Party.  The competitive direction candidates did not win because there were too many of them and they split up each other’s support, allowing Elrich to squeak in by 80 votes.

Combine the competitive direction Democrats with the roughly 40% of registered voters who are unaffiliated or Republicans and you get 70% of the general electorate – the exact percentage who voted for term limits.  These numbers are not a coincidence.

The Executive election is not quite finished yet.  Council Member Nancy Floreen is trying to get on the ballot as an independent, which we believe is an uphill battle, and a general election awaits.  But through their votes on candidate messages, MoCo Democrats have spoken about where they would like the county to go.  Elected officials would be wise to heed them.

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Floreen Faces an Uphill Climb to Get on the Ballot

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.

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What We Learned About Public Campaign Financing

By Adam Pagnucco.

This past primary saw the first use of public campaign financing in local elections in Maryland.  Many people both inside and outside Montgomery County have been watching the system’s performance.  For the benefit of both MoCo policy makers as well as those in other jurisdictions who are considering adoption of this system, here are the things we have learned about public financing.

Public financing was heavily used and helped attract a record number of candidates.

Thirty-three candidates enrolled in public financing.  Four of them ran for Executive, nineteen ran for Council At-Large and ten ran in Council Districts.  Of these candidates, twenty-three qualified for matching funds – all four Executive candidates, twelve Council At-Large candidates and seven District candidates.  That’s a 70% qualification rate.  MoCo has never had as many candidates for county office as it had this year – not even close! – and public financing was partially responsible for that.  Several candidates told your author that they would not have considered running if public financing had not been available.

Candidates in public financing can win.

Of ten county-level seats, six – Council District 3, Council District 4 and all four Council At-Large seats – were won by candidates in public financing.  Three of these winners were incumbents and three were not.  The County Executive seat may also be won by a publicly financed candidate pending absentee and provisional ballot counts.

But did public financing change the outcome?

The three incumbents who used public financing and won did not need the system to win.  Of the three non-incumbents who won while using it, we predicted that two – Council At-Large candidates Evan Glass and Will Jawando – would be strong contenders more than a year ago because they had run credible races before.  The third non-incumbent public financing winner, Council At-Large candidate Gabe Albornoz, would have at least been a viable candidate in the traditional system because of his endorsement by the Washington Post and his networks in the party, the community and among Ike Leggett supporters.  The leading Executive candidate in public financing, Marc Elrich, has long outperformed his fundraising and benefited from significant outside progressive support.  In no instance can we point to public financing as THE reason a candidate who was otherwise not viable became a winner.  In fact, if all candidates had used the traditional system, it’s possible that the exact same group of them would have won.

It was cheaper than expected.

The county set aside $11 million in its public election fund on the assumption that there would be many new candidates and that a lot of them would max out in public matching funds.  Yes, there were a lot of candidates, but only four – Council At-Large candidates Evan Glass and Will Jawando, Council District 1 candidate Reggie Oldak and Council District 3 incumbent Sidney Katz – maxed out.  Two more Council At-Large candidates – incumbent Hans Riemer and Bill Conway – came close and County Executive candidate Marc Elrich was not far off.  As a result, the county spent $4 million in matching funds distributions through the end of June – waaaaaay less than the $11 million in the public election fund.

Incumbents did well in the system.

In his 2014 race, Council At-Large incumbent Hans Riemer raised $271,817.  Four years later in public financing, Riemer raised $326,866 through June – a 20% improvement.  Council District 3 incumbent Sidney Katz raised $135,589 in 2014.  Four years later in public financing, Katz raised $176,265 through June – a 30% improvement.  Council incumbent Marc Elrich, who ran for Executive, raised $851,602 through June, a higher total than he had raised before and enough to let him compete with a multi-million-dollar self-funder.  Fellow council incumbent George Leventhal, who also ran for Executive, had decent fundraising with $628,426 but his campaign was hurt by front-loaded spending and few endorsements.

The system did not produce credible challenges to district incumbents.

Council District incumbents Craig Rice, Nancy Navarro and Tom Hucker blew out little-known challengers.  In the latter case, Hucker’s challenger actually qualified for matching funds and sent out two negative mail pieces but was still wiped out by 45 points in early and election day voting.  In the only competitive district race, District 3 incumbent Sidney Katz used public financing to defeat Ben Shnider, who ran in the traditional system.  The lack of competitiveness in district races is a long-standing trend that public financing has not changed.

Public financing was administratively challenging.

While no users of public financing told your author that they regretted participating in the system, all of them complained about its cumbersome administrative requirements – especially showing proof of residency to obtain matching funds and dealing with filing issues in the state’s software.  The State Board of Elections has every right to verify in-county residency before authorizing release of public funds, but the system’s ease of use should be reviewed by the next County Council.

Raising money in public financing takes a long time.

We wrote about this during the campaign.  Because the system relies on a large volume of small contributions, contacting those MANY small contributors takes a long time to pile up serious cash.  Late entrants into public financing like County Executive candidate Rose Krasnow and Council At-Large candidate Jill Ortman-Fouse were unable to match competitors in fundraising who also used public financing.  The lesson here is if you are going to use this system, start running early.

Self-funders did not overwhelm the system.

In the County Executive race, public financing candidate Marc Elrich fought self-funding David Blair, who gave his campaign at least $2.9 million, to a virtual draw.  In Council District 1, Meredith Wellington – who gave her campaign $78,000 – is on her way to finishing fourth behind public financing candidates Ana Sol Gutierrez and Reggie Oldak.  Self-funding was not a major factor in the Council At-Large race.

Public financing did not stop interest group participation in the election.

Interest groups may not have been able to contribute large individual, corporate and PAC checks to candidates but they still played.  They spent significant amounts on TV and mail in the Executive race and some progressive groups canvassed for their candidates.  Just as importantly, institutional endorsements mattered as much as ever.  Marc Elrich could not have come close in the Executive race without them.  District 1 candidate Ana Sol Gutierrez benefited from them to finish second even though she had lackluster fundraising.  District 3 candidate Ben Shnider had many and came closer to winning than most people initially believed.  And all four winning Council At-Large candidates (incumbent Hans Riemer, Will Jawando, Evan Glass and Gabe Albornoz) had lots of them.  Candidates who lacked interest group support, like Executive candidates Rose Krasnow and George Leventhal and Council At-Large candidates Hoan Dang, Bill Conway and Jill Ortman-Fouse did not come close to winning.  Savvy interest groups can exploit public financing by helping candidates of their choice raise money inside the system while using their own money to finance PAC and independent expenditure activity.  Here’s a prediction: all of the above will happen again.

Most women using public financing did not win.

Much has been said about the next County Council having just one female member.  District 4 incumbent Nancy Navarro used public financing to defeat a no-name challenger.  But no other woman in public financing came that close to winning.  In early and election day voting, Gutierrez trailed traditionally financed candidate Andrew Friedson in District 1 by seven points.  Krasnow finished third in the Executive race by fourteen points.  And the highest-performing woman in the Council At-Large race was Marilyn Balcombe, who used traditional financing to finish fifth.

There are numerous reasons to explain these finishes.  Gutierrez’s primary voter base was in Wheaton, which is outside District 1.  Krasnow and Council At-Large candidate Jill Ortman-Fouse raised money quickly but started too late to raise a lot of it.  Council At-Large candidates Brandy Brooks and Danielle Meitiv were unknown in county political circles before running so they could not tap into preexisting donor networks.  We believe that female candidates can succeed in the system, but we admit that this cycle presents little evidence of that.

Public financing amplified the influence of the Democratic Crescent.

We have written before about the Democratic Crescent, the region of the county stretching along the Beltway from Takoma Park in the east to Cabin John and Bethesda in the West.  This area has a disproportionate number of Democratic activists, voters and political contributors and sent Jamie Raskin to Congress two years ago.  Back in March, we found that the Crescent accounted for a majority of public financing contributions to Executive and Council At-Large candidates and waaaaay out-paced contributions from Upcounty.  If we were to repeat that exercise today, we have little reason to believe that the result would be significantly different.

The impact of Crescent participation was clearly seen in the Council At-Large results.  Riemer, Glass and Albornoz live in the Crescent.  Jawando lives outside it but much of his base in Legislative District 20 is inside it.  All four oppose M-83, the Upcounty highway demanded by many in Clarksburg.

There has only been one At-Large Council Member from Upcounty since the current council structure was created in 1990.  That person – Gaithersburg resident Mike Subin – has an asterisk since he was originally elected in District 2 in 1986 and shifted to an at-large seat when the new structure was put in place four years later.  And so the trend of not electing Upcounty residents to at-large seats was well established prior to this year but we wonder if public financing will lock it in.

We have spent $4 million on public financing so far.  Was it worth it?

We laid out the pluses and minuses above.  Readers, this question is for you to answer!

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Maryland’s Recount Procedure

By Adam Pagnucco.

As the elections for the Montgomery and Baltimore County Executives are very close, as are a few others like the District 16 House race, Maryland’s recount procedure is relevant.  It is contained in Md. Election Law Code Ann. § 12-101 through § 12-107.

“A candidate for public or party office who has been defeated based on the certified results of any election conducted under this article may petition for a recount of the votes cast for the office sought.”  The petition must be filed within three days after the results of the election have been certified and may request a recount in all precincts or just some precincts.  An opposing candidate may file a counter-petition if the results of the election are changed or if the original petition only addresses some precincts and the opposing candidate requests that all precincts be recounted.  On a ballot question, a registered voter eligible to vote on the question may file a petition for a recount.  A registered voter may file a counter-petition on that ballot question if the original petition did not specify all precincts or the result is changed.  Bonds are due from the petitioner and/or counter-petitioner to cover the cost of the recount.

Recounts are conducted by the appropriate local board(s) of election.  The State Board of Elections will monitor and support the work of the local board(s).

Petitioners are responsible to pay the cost of the recount with the following exceptions laid out in § 12-107(b)(2).

(i)  the outcome of the election is changed;

(ii)  the petitioner has gained a number of votes, for the petitioner’s candidacy or for or against the question that is the subject of the petition, equal to 2% or more of the total votes cast for the office or on the question, in all precincts being recounted; or

(iii)  1. the margin of difference in the number of votes received by an apparent winner and the losing candidate with the highest number of votes for an office is 0.1% or less of the total votes cast for those candidates;

2. in the case of a question, the margin of difference between the number of votes cast for and the number cast against the question is 0.1% or less.

If the petitioners are not responsible for paying the recount cost, the county must pay.

In the case of the Montgomery County Executive candidates, the recount payment threshold, which is “the margin of difference in the number of votes received by an apparent winner and the losing candidate with the highest number of votes for an office is 0.1% or less of the total votes cast for those candidates” is approximately 70 votes since Marc Elrich and David Blair together received roughly 70,000 votes.  Our hunch is that either campaign would be willing to bear the cost of a recount if necessary although how Elrich would finance a bond while in the fundraising constraints of public financing is an interesting question for lawyers to consider.

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MoCo Democrats are Badly Divided

By Adam Pagnucco.

This may not be the most polite thing to say in the wake of the MoCo Democrats’ Kiss and Make Up Party, but it’s the truth: MoCo Dems are badly divided.  Consider the following.

The photo finish in the Executive race between Marc Elrich and David Blair is exacerbated by the fact that many Democratic activists are part of Anybody But Elrich or Anybody But Blair factions.  No matter who wins, that person will have 29% of the primary vote, far lower than any prior MoCo Executive.

That’s not the only divide in the Executive race.  The three incumbent Council Members received a combined 52% of the vote.  The three outsiders received 48%.  That suggests an even split between those who want more of what they have seen from the council and those who want something different.

Gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous won MoCo with roughly 36% of the vote, four points ahead of Rushern Baker and 22 points ahead of MoCo State Senator Rich Madaleno.  No one wants to talk about this publicly, but there are quite a few county Dems out there who will consider voting for Governor Larry Hogan.

Now Nancy Floreen has filed a declaration of intent to run for County Executive as an independent.  This is sure to attract the attention of some Dems who are upset that the nine-member County Council will include just one woman.  Floreen is one of the most prominent female Democrats in the county’s history.  No woman has been elected countywide more times than Floreen since charter government was established in 1970.  If she does indeed get on the ballot, a not-insignificant number of Dems – especially women – could vote for her.

All of this adds to county Democrats’ pre-existing divide about land use, the Upcounty vs Downcounty split, long-standing tensions between progressives and moderates and the Hillary vs Bernie disputes of two years ago (and the Hillary vs Obama disputes before that).  Throw that in with the fact that a majority of Democrats voted for term limits and there’s a lot of bubbling in the cauldron right now.

The county’s two most popular Democrats are U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman Jamie Raskin.  Neither is known for intervening in and settling local disputes.  County Executive Ike Leggett is widely respected but is leaving office.  The Governor is a Republican who is happy to see Dems fight Dems.

As for the Republicans, they must be kicking themselves that they couldn’t find anyone else to run for Executive other than Robin Ficker.

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Nancy Floreen Files Intent to Run for County Executive as an Independent

By Adam Pagnucco.

Bethesda Magazine just reported that Council Member Nancy Floreen has filed her intent to run for County Executive as an independent.  But getting on the ballot is not as simple as filing.

The magazine noted that Floreen is still a Democrat and that could present a legal difficulty.  But there is more.  According to § 5-703 of the state’s election law, Floreen has until the first Monday in August to submit petition signatures sufficient to place her on the ballot.  The law states:

A candidate who seeks nomination by petition may not have the candidate’s name placed on the general election ballot unless the candidate files with the appropriate board petitions signed by the lesser of 10,000 registered voters or 1% of the total number of registered voters who are eligible to vote for the office for which the nomination by petition is sought, except that the petitions shall be signed by at least 250 registered voters who are eligible to vote for the office…

The number of registered voters required to satisfy the requirements of paragraph (1) of this subsection shall be determined as of January 1 of the year of the primary election for which the nomination is sought.

The state’s voter registration report for January indicates that there were 644,179 registered voters in Montgomery County at that time.  So Floreen’s absolute minimum threshold would be 6,442 MoCo voters.  To be safe, she probably needs at least 10,000 signatures to account for inevitable disqualifications.

She has until August 6 to get them.

Following is Floreen’s statement.

Today I filed an Intent to Declare Candidacy with the Maryland Board of Elections to run for County Executive in the November general election.

Let me be clear: I would like to have waited for the final count of ballots in the County Executive race. However, State law sets July 2 as the deadline for declaring an independent candidacy.

I did not support either David Blair or Marc Elrich. Whichever candidate prevails in the count will do so with less than 30 percent of the third of Democrats who voted — a fraction of a fraction. That’s less than 40,000 votes in a County of more than a million.

I believe ALL Democrats, Republicans, and independents would benefit from a third, independent choice.

I will announce my final decision on candidacy once all the primary votes for County Executive have been tabulated and certified.

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A Pattern in the Absentee Ballots?

By Adam Pagnucco.

All eyes in political MoCo are on the County Executive race, which will be decided by absentee and provisional ballots.  After the first absentee canvass, Marc Elrich’s lead over David Blair has declined from 492 votes to 149 votes, guaranteeing an absolute squeaker of a finish.  Lots of folks are asking why.  A preliminary analysis of absentee voting data suggests one reason: for the most part, candidates endorsed by MCEA, of whom Elrich is one, are performing slightly less well in absentee voting than in early voting and election day voting.

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), which represents MCPS teachers, has historically been the most powerful interest group in MoCo elections.  Its political program has combined mail and poll coverage where its mighty Apple Ballot is distributed.  This year, its mail program has been partially diverted to the Governor’s race (where the union helped pay for three mailers on behalf of Ben Jealous) and Congress District 6 (where the union sent three mailers for Aruna Miller).  Its remaining mailers were one for its State Legislative District 16 endorsees (one of whom was teacher Samir Paul), one for its Council At-Large endorsees (one of whom was teacher Chris Wilhelm) and one with the Apple Ballot itself.  The latter mailer was the only one to include Marc Elrich, who was endorsed late.  In past years in which races for Governor and Congress were not an issue, MCEA’s mail program was entirely focused on state legislative and county races.

Alterations to the mail program may explain variations in absentee ballot voting.  People who vote early, on election day and through provisional ballots may encounter Apple Ballot poll coverage.  And it’s not just MCEA who distributes it; candidates who are featured on it often distribute it too.  But absentee voters do not go to a polling place.  They must be contacted through other means.  As stated above, MCEA’s mailers were drawn into races for Congress and Governor and if the union has a robust digital program, we have not seen it.  All of this means that absentee voters in General Assembly and county-level races are less likely to be influenced by the Apple.

The table below shows sixteen close performances in county races between Apple-endorsed and non-Apple candidates.  (We excluded incumbents to remove any incumbent effect on absentee voting.)  In each race, the margin between the two in election and early voting results is shown alongside the margin in the first absentee canvass.  (Both sets of results are unofficial and there will be another absentee canvass.)  In eleven of these sixteen races, Apple-endorsed candidate performance declined in absentee voting.

Now some of these races have other things going on.  In Congress District 6, Aruna Miller benefited from MCEA’s three mailers and her performance actually rose a tiny bit among absentees.  In the gubernatorial race, a clear outlier, Rushern Baker may have benefited from the Washington Post’s strong endorsement.  (This year, the Post did not endorse in Congressional or state legislative races.)  David Blair got not one, but two Post endorsements.  Elrich’s late endorsement from MCEA handicapped his ability to publicize it, which may have impacted absentee voters.  And so on.

The Apple Ballot is arguably the best endorsement in the county.  Blair would already have won the Executive race if Elrich had not received it.  But the data above, however tentative it is, suggests a pattern: the Apple has been slightly less effective in absentee voting.  The median performance drop is 1.4 points.  The mean performance drop excluding the outlier race for Governor is 1.3 points.  So let’s round it in rough terms to a point-and-a-half decline.  That’s not enough to affect most races but it is having an impact on the razor-thin contests for County Executive and House 16.  MCEA should consider this in designing its future political programs.

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Does Blair Have a Chance?

By Adam Pagnucco.

With early votes and election day votes counted, Marc Elrich leads David Blair by 452 votes to win the Democratic County Executive nomination.  This would be a close margin in a House of Delegates race but it’s incredibly close for a county-wide race.  The final outcome will now be decided by absentee and provisional ballots.  Does Blair have a chance or will Elrich hold on to win?

According to Bethesda Magazine, the county’s Board of Elections received 4,900 Democratic absentee ballots as of Monday.  In addition, 3,614 provisional ballots were cast but that total includes all parties.  For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that 2,500 of those provisional ballots came from Democrats.  If there are only 5,000 Democratic absentee ballots received, that is 7,500 outstanding votes.  A higher end assumption would be that 7,500 Democratic absentee ballots come in, resulting in 10,000 outstanding votes.

Let’s do a math exercise on the final outcome of the absentee and provisional votes.  In the first scenario, let’s assume that the percentages of three categories – Blair’s percentage, Elrich’s percentage and the percentage of all the other candidates – exactly match the shares recorded during early and election day voting.  In this scenario, Elrich picks up between 30 and 40 votes more than Blair and he would win.

Now let’s do a scenario in which Blair wins.  Since Blair and Elrich are the top two and no one else is even close, it’s the margin between them that will determine the victor.  In this second scenario, we will hold the percentage of all the other candidates constant and merely adjust the totals for Blair and Elrich.  Adding 3.3 points to Blair and subtracting 3.3 points from Elrich produces a net gain for Blair of 465 votes in a 7,500 vote universe, enough to win.  That margin would go up to 620 votes in a 10,000 vote universe.  But note that this scenario requires Blair to lead Elrich by 6.2 points among these groups, a very different result than Elrich’s 0.4 point lead in early and election day votes.

We adjusted the percentage for the other candidates up and down and didn’t find much change in the margin Blair needs, which is more than six points over Elrich.  Again, this is a departure from the cumulative early vote and election day totals.

Will it happen?  Readers, you tell us!

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