For the most part, the leaders reflected the two big stories of the month: MoCo’s mud-splattered school board contest and the county’s low turnout in the primary. (It turns out that despite early data from the State Board of Elections, MoCo probably won’t be last in the state.) Also, the county deserves credit for posting a COVID-19 dashboard just two days after we called for one.
June promises to be another busy month. Thank you for reading Seventh State!
In the days leading up to the primary election, turnout reports from the State Board of Elections consistently showed MoCo as last in the state. Updated numbers released this morning now show MoCo is one of the lower turnout jurisdictions in Maryland but no longer last.
The chart below shows the combined return rate of vote by mail ballots and absentee ballots. (Vote by mail ballots dominate this statistic as 3,485,891 of those were sent to voters while 99,718 absentee ballots were sent to voters statewide.) The state has so far not released turnout counts for election day votes.
MoCo now ranks 21 of 24 jurisdictions in turnout in these two categories. Baltimore City, despite huge problems with late ballots and counting in City Council District 1, ranks first. That’s a testament to city voters who decided Baltimore’s future in this election.
In terms of party splits, MoCo ranked 13th of 24 in Democratic turnout, 23rd of 24 in Republican turnout and 5th in unaffiliated/third party turnout among the 13 jurisdictions that received ballots from those voters.
MoCo was also one of the lower turnout jurisdictions in the 2016 primary as shown in the chart below.
In addition to turnout, another issue is how long it is taking to count ballots. At the moment, the county has received 227,383 in combined vote by mail and absentee ballots along with an indeterminate number of election day ballots. At the moment, 137,060 ballots for president have been counted and 124,764 ballots for at-large school board have been counted. That means the county board of elections has a ways to go before all ballots are counted. The board has scheduled canvasses through June 20.
Just as I reported yesterday and the day before, MoCo’s rate of returning vote-by-mail ballots remains the lowest in the state. The chart below shows return rate by county through May 29.
The data is also bad when looking at party splits. MoCo’s return rate among Democrats (10.2%) is the worst in the state, which had a return rate among Democrats of 19.6%. MoCo’s return rate among Republicans (8.6%) was also the worst in the state, which had a return rate among Republicans of 20.2%. MoCo is one of thirteen counties in which unaffiliated and third party voters vote in presidential primaries. Among those thirteen, MoCo’s return rate among unaffiliated and third party voters was 5.0%, ranking 9th and not much lower than the statewide rate (6.0%).
As if that were not enough, MoCo is also last in return rate of absentee ballots. Even though the state sent 3,488,628 regular ballots to voter addresses, an additional 97,373 absentee ballots were requested and mailed. MoCo’s return rate of absentee ballots was the worst in the state among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated and third party voters. Here is an interesting fact: despite having about a sixth of the state’s population, MoCo voters requested a third of all absentee ballots in the state.
I’m not going to speculate on what is happening here. But with 4 days to go until election day, MoCo’s abysmal turnout rate has emerged as a consistent trend which has not yet gone away.
In the meantime, if you have received your ballot, don’t let it sit with the bills and junk mail. Fill it out and vote!
Yesterday, I published turnout data through May 26 showing that MoCo was dead last in Maryland. Today, I am publishing turnout data through May 28 showing the same thing. Folks, with 5 days to go until election day, it’s time to wonder what’s going on.
On May 26, 3.9% of those who received a mail ballot in MoCo were recorded as returning it. The return rate for the state was 14.1%. On May 28, MoCo’s return rate was 6.5%, still lagging the state’s rate of 16.5% and still the last in Maryland.
Compare MoCo to Frederick. On May 26, MoCo’s return rate was 3.9% and Frederick’s was 6.4%. On May 28, MoCo’s return rate was 6.5% and Frederick’s was 11.2%.
Another comparison worth noting is Baltimore City, which was plagued with late mailouts of ballots. The city’s return rate was 12.1% on May 26 and 13.7% on May 28, far higher than MoCo.
It’s worth noting that MoCo had one of the lower turnout rates in the state in the 2016 primary, although it was not at the bottom.
So what’s going on here? It’s a little early to say. Stories of folks getting late ballots or even getting ballots for people no longer living at their address are common on social media here. The county boards of election could also have different processing times for ballots. (David Lublin described how this works earlier today.) Or it could all be a timing fluke and MoCo could wind up in the bottom quarter of turnout, but not be an outlier, as happened four years ago.
If you’re concerned about this, the best thing to do is vote!
Maryland is holding its first-ever mostly vote-by-mail election. The State Board of Elections (SBE) has been mailing ballots to voters for weeks. Voters may mail ballots back to SBE, drop them off at vote centers or vote at the vote centers on election day (June 2).
SBE has had some delays in mailing ballots, especially in Baltimore City and Montgomery County. The fact that the ballots are marked with the wrong date may be an issue for some voters. And since this is the first primarily vote-by-mail election, there may be voters who have not adjusted and anticipate voting at their precincts.
Could the potential problems above have impacted voting? The table below shows ballots sent by SBE and received by SBE by county as of May 26 (yesterday). Also included are turnout rates from the 2016 primary. Turnout is waaaaaaay down – so far. Montgomery County’s turnout rate of 4% is particularly abysmal. But let’s bear in mind that there were still seven days to go until the election when this data was released.
These totals are going to increase in coming days. I’ll issue periodic updates.
Today, I am testifying at the House Ways and Mean Committee in favor of a bill sponsored by Chair Sheila Hixson (D-20) and Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-20) to establish a Blue Ribbon Commission on Voting, Openness, Transparency and Equality (VOTE). My opinion piece in today’s Baltimore Sun explains why:
It makes sense to get on the off ramp instead of heading directly into the blockages that plague the federal level. Reforms to the electoral system have the potential to encourage cooperation even as we respect the partisan differences that render our democracy vibrant. Happily, many of these changes can also encourage participation.
Capitol Hill looks like dysfunction junction. Let’s take a look at possible changes that could help prevent Annapolis from following that route.
The Committee for Montgomery, a broad-based alliance of business, labor, education, civic and community-based organizations played a key role in developing the ideas behind this bill.