Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Reality Check

The Baltimore Sun published an interesting editorial this week entitled "A Reality Check" about the challenges facing the entire state concerning growth. The issue of growth is playing a central role in local campaigns around the state not just in Montgomery County. The editorial ends with the following comment:

There is no simple solution. Greater regional and state-level involvement in planning would help. So might additional government investment in transit and urban redevelopment. But this much is clear: The growth is coming. The only question is whether it will take the form and location that people would prefer.


Bad News for the GOP

The Washington Post has posted excerpts from Bob Woodward's new book. I found the whole article another devastating indictment of this administration. I think the administration's whole strategy is summed up best by Sec. Rumsfeld's reported comment to Jay Garner just weeks into the war:

Rumsfeld looked at Garner for a moment with his take-no-prisoners gaze. "Well," he said, "I don't think there is anything we can do, because we are where we are."

I guess this is the birth of "Stay the Course."

Then there is this quote from Stephen Hadley, the current National Security Advisor, about his thoughts on Bush's first term:

"I give us a B-minus for policy development," he told a colleague on Feb. 5, 2005, "and a D-minus for policy execution."
I think it is fair to say that their grade for the second term shows no improvement. It is time to Drop this Course.

If this whole Woodward story is not bad enough for the GOP, there is a sad follow-up story about the who knew what when about Foley's e-mails. The story ends with this assessment from a Republican operative:

Rich Galen, a Republican political strategist, worried that voters might lump Foley's name with former representatives Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.), all of whom were forced to resign or were indicted amid various scandals this year.

"This sense of entitlement that members of Congress can do anything to anyone or for anyone has got to end," Galen said.


Friday, September 29, 2006

A Random Musing on Blogging

The world of blogs and blogging is so new that the word "blog" is not in the spell check dictionary for It wants to correct it to read "bloc." It also wanted to change "blogging" to "flogging." Really, it did. I am not making this stuff up.


Debate Agreement Reached

The O'Malley and Ehrlich campaigns have reached an agreement to hold two televised debates in October. The Baltimore Sun is reporting that the debates will be hosted by TV stations in Baltimore and Salisbury, respectively. I hope that the campaigns will find a broadcast channel in the Washington region that will air the debates live, maybe Maryland Public TV on channel 22. Otherwise, it may be only cable viewers who can tune in. I also hope that Comcast locally will put the debates on their "on demand" service so local viewers can tune in at their leisure.


Some Dirty Little Secrets

Since I am now in control of this media empire, I thought it would be interesting over the next few days to share some stories about being a candidate. For example, the general public is growing frustrated with the increasing number of automated phone calls from politicians ("robocalls" as they are known in campaign speak). I hear complaints all the time and am quite happy our District 18 slate did not use them. However, as a candidate, you must suffer through not only the same robocalls everyone else gets but daily robocalls from robocall vendors advertising robocalls. Imagine the number you receive times two or three.

As microtargeting becomes the rage in politics and campaigns, we candidates have become our own special marketing segment.

As an aside, I recently heard a story from the proud mother of a robocall professional who told me that her son had developed an innovative way to use these calls for good. To help with his sister's wedding, he assembled the cell phone numbers for as many of the guests as he could get. He then entered the numbers in his database and scheduled them for a phone call five minutes before the wedding was to begin. The message heard by the recipient, "Please turn off your cell phone. The wedding is about to begin." Now that is a useful robocall!

Next up: candidate questionnaires.


Here we go

As noted by David in his previous posting, I have volunteered to keep the blog jumping while he spreads American democracy around the world the "old fashioned way" - peacefully through dialog, intellectual persuasion, debate, and discussion. I wish him well in two countries with recent and on-going ethnic conflicts. Come back safely David! I hope I can continue to keep this blog fresh and interesting in your absence.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Lublin Out, Madaleno In

I'm getting ready to head out of town. The Department of State has kindly invited your gentle blogger to speak about the upcoming midterm elections in Slovenia and Cyprus. Slovenia is the most successful part of former Yugoslavia. Cyprus is best known in Europe as a beach destination but the island remains divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriots; its capital remains a divided city with a ceasefire line running through its heart.

Blogging about Maryland from Ljubljana or Nicosia struck me as a bit difficult. Rich Madaleno has kindly agreed to step into the breach. Rich is currently one of the three delegates representing District 18 and just won the nomination for his Senate victory. I worked on the campaign for the District 18 Democratic slate and would take full credit for his primary victory except that he was unopposed--an impressive achievement.

On a lighter note, Rich describes himself in his campaign bio as "an always devoted, currently disappointed, but ever-optimistic fan of the Washington Capitals." Not much different than being a Democrat in recent elections.


Ehrlich Pushes Absentee Ballots

The governor is making a major push for his supporters to vote by absentee ballot. Not a bad way to rack up votes in advance of the election as I wrote in an earlier post.


Maryland Votes No on Detainee Bill

The House of Representatives approved legislation on the treatment of detainees on a 253 to 168 vote. The entire Maryland delegation voted against the bill, including the state's two Republican representatives. They were among the seven Republicans who opposed the bill as compared to 219 Democrats (34 Democrats voted yes). Across the river in Virginia, they voted on party lines, except for Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) who did not vote on the bill.


BoE Retraining Election Judges

I was pleased to read in the Gazette that the Montgomery County Board of Elections has begun retraining election judges:

On the list is a countywide retraining program for election judges. About 1,500 check-in judges, whose job includes operating the e-poll book to verify voter information, will undergo the retraining early next month, said Paul Valette, operations manager for the county elections board. ‘‘We are most concerned with these judges because they use the equipment all day, and are the first step for voters in the voting processes,” he said.
It's easy to bash the Board of Elections at this point but I'm pleased that they appear to be on top of the key issues which need to be addressed before the general election. Prince George's is working to improve the situation as well. Of course, the "final exam" for the Boards of Election in both counties will be held November 7th.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Mfume and Obama Endorse Cardin

Read about it in the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun.


Franchot Ahead in Comptroller Race

Democrat Peter Franchot leads Republican Anne McCarthy by 54 to 29 in the race to become the state's next comptroller according to the Sun poll. McCarthy, hoping to become the first Republican comptroller since 1898, has lived in Maryland for only four years. One can take her presence on the GOP ticket as a sign that the Republican bench remains thin in Maryland despite recent growth or that Republicans were hoping that William Donald Schaefer, a Democrat who often voted with Gov. Ehrlich on the Board of Public Works, would win reelection.


Gianetti Jumps to the GOP

State Sen. John Gianetti (District 21) jumped to the Republicans today after being creamed in the Democratic primary by former Del. Jim Rosapepe. According to the unofficial primary results, Gianetti won just 39% of the vote in the primary, compared to 59% for Rosapepe, and lost both the Prince George's and Anne Arundel portions of the district. Gianetti has a terrible relationship with the sitting delegates who joined Rosapepe to form a slate challenging Gianetti in the primary.

Gianetti also had a reputation of being unusually conservative for a Prince George's County senator. Gianetti hopes to make a comeback in the general election. However, the Republicans who ran last time received around one-half of the votes of the Democratic winners and it's unclear if his primary supporters will stick with him in the general election.


Saying No to Hate in Charles

Racial tensions have risen in Charles County as more and more prosperous black families settle there. Fortunately, it sounds as if the political establishment is not just saying that hate is bad for Charles but doing what they can to combat the recent wave of vandalism:

FBI agents are planning to join authorities in their search for the vandals at the request of Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the House Democratic whip, whose district includes Southern Maryland.

Wayne Cooper (D), president of the county Board of Commissioners, asked Hoyer last week to help get the federal government involved. "This is too much, and it's happening too fast," Cooper said.

State legislators representing Charles have pledged to review Maryland's hate crime laws, and county leaders plan town hall forums to promote racial tolerance and encourage discussion.

Charles County Commissioners also understand that hate is bad for business:
Some leaders think the recent vandalism -- coupled with memories of the 2004 arson that destroyed or damaged 27 new houses in the Hunters Brooke subdivision, many of them bought by black families -- threatens to thwart the county's aggressive efforts to woo businesses and higher-paying jobs.

"It's a very urgent problem," Commissioner Candice Quinn Kelly (R-La Plata) said of the lingering notion of Charles as racist. "We're working hard to shed that image."

"Who would want to bring their company or business to a place where their employees may feel unrest?" Commissioner Edith J. Patterson (D-Pomfret) asked. "Who would want to move here if they're afraid they'll open their doors at night and be attacked either by graffiti or other means? . . .

"We need to send a resounding message that this is not Charles County, this is not who we are and this is not what we want to represent."

Amen to that.


Development Slowing in Montgomery

Even before the new council members who are more critical of development take office, development is slowing in Montgomery. The lead story in the Washington Post business section is that Canyon Ranch has abandoned its plan to build condos, a hotel and a spa near Montgomery Mall in North Bethesda. Indeed, eight new projects to build condos in Maryland have been abandoned according to the graphic in the print edition.

The decisions not to build new condos are hardly suprising since there is a glut in the Washington condo market. Growth opponents may cheer this shift. However, while the collapse of the Canyon Ranch project is probably not a major blow to affordable housing, the failure to build the project valued at $1 billion is a punch to the future tax base of Montgomery. The project would have also generated substantial employment first in construction and then in running the facility.

It will ironic if the negative building trends continue so much that the new anti-sprawl, anti-development members of the Council end up spending most of their time figuring out how to drum up business in the face of an economic downtown. Right now, the Washington economy appears robust despite these project cancellations but it wouldn't be the first time that this happened. Fairfax voters elected Democrat Audrey Moore on an anti-growth ticket. They turfed her out after one term as the economy of the region tanked.


DSCC's New Ad Attacking Steele

The DSCC has released a great ad replying to Steele's puppy ad. I like it. The new commercial shows a sense of humor even as it relentlessly reminds voters of all of the issue positions Steele finds unwise to share with Marylanders. The tag line is: "Michael Steele likes puppies but he loves George Bush." Steele calls the ad more mud from the "Washington crowd" but this ad is so straightforwardly true, he would be hard pressed to explain what is unfair or twisted about it.

I couldn't find a YouTube of Steele's reply ad but you can read about in the Baltimore Sun.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Developer Aids Ehrlich

The Washington Post reports the far from earth-shattering news that a developer gave money to a politician, Gov. Bob Ehrlich in this case. Still, the story is a nice example of how money greases the wheels of politics and the state's campaign finance laws are easily subverted. Kingdom Gould III has given far more than $4000, the state's legal limit, to Ehrlich by making the donations through a series of limited liability corporations. Gould hopes his donations will help speed the construction of the ICC, an interchange at I-95, and and a proposed extention of Metro's Green Line which will allow him to contruct Konterra, a jumbo Reston-sized development, near Laurel.

Gould may be backing the wrong horse as Martin O'Malley leads Ehrlich according to the polls. Frankly, I am surprised that he hasn't invested heavily in the O'Malley campaign as well since, like the governor, he plans to move ahead with the ICC. While all legal, the public airing of staunch developer support for his campaign cannot exactly boost Ehrlich's support in Montgomery as candidates perceived as too pro-development took a sharp hit in the Democratic primary.


Diebold's Claims of Fix Fall Flat

On primary day, I reported that the electronic voter check-in system, called e-poll books, crashed and had to be rebooted when I went to vote. After it rebooted, the e-poll book reported that I had already voted even though I had not. Later reports revealed that this was hardly a unique experience. One friend who served as an election judge told me that the machines crashed around every 25 voters (the Sun reports 40 to 50).

Both the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun report that Diebold claims to have figured out how to fix the "glitch". Despite having announced the fix, Diebold has yet to install the upgrade the 5,500 machines used by the state--another big task to accomplish before Election Day. Moreover, a public demonstration of the new and improved e-poll books did not exactly inspired confidence:

Linda H. Lamone, state administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections, invited Diebold to show that the system is "100 percent perfect."

To do that yesterday, Diebold technicians showed what happened to an unmodified e-poll book after 40 to 50 voters had registered: An error message appeared on the screen, displaying the words "can not continue;" the screen went black; and the unit rebooted, as if a polling judge had just turned it on.

Despite all the problems, State Administrator Linda Lamone is still standing by her machine:

Lamone, who has long championed the company and its voting machines, said she was not disappointed in Diebold. "I love the technology. I'm disappointed we had the problems, but I'm heartened to see Diebold stepping up to the plate to come up with solutions," she said.

"If it doesn't work," she added, referring to the e-poll books, "we're going to pack them up and ship them back."

She and Diebold officials noted that the e-poll book is separate from Diebold's voting machines, which they said worked well.

Perhaps fortunately, the final decision on election technology for future elections will ultimately lie in the hands of the members of the next General Assembly and governor.

In related news, Marc Fisher explains how technicians who were supposed to help election judges troubleshoot problems on Election Day were hired on the cheap.


Gansler Way Ahead

The Baltimore Sun polled the race for attorney general in addition to the senatorial and gubernatorial contests. Democrat Doug Gansler led Republican Scott Rolle by 54 to 26 in the poll of 815 likely voters. While Ben Cardin is working hard to consolidate the black vote after defeating one African-American challenger in the primary and facing another in the general, Gansler appears to have no such worries:

Gansler showed few ill effects from the primary campaign he waged against Stuart O. Simms, the former state's attorney in Baltimore who was seeking to become the state's first African-American attorney general, the poll indicated.

It showed Gansler winning 79 percent of the African-American vote to Rolle's 7 percent.

Against Simms, Gansler won majority-black Prince George's County in the primary but lost by a nearly 3-to-1 margin on Simms' home turf.
Rolle had raised only $69,000 as of September 1, suggesting that he will not be able to go on the airwaves and cut into Gansler's lead.


Monday, September 25, 2006

Cardin Leads Steele by 11

The Baltimore Sun has let the other shoe drop from its poll of Marylanders and the news is that Ben Cardin leads Michael Steele by 11 percent. Once again, the Sun is trying to minimize the good news. The story almost desperately tries to create the drama of a close race by declaring the race "volatile" and Cardin's lead not "insurmountable." However, since the last Sun poll also showed Cardin with a lead of 11 points, the results from the series of Sun polls are the very definition of stable and not volatile.

There are two real stories in this polls. The first is that Steele's recent barrage of very clever, insouciant advertisements has failed to shake up Cardin's support. The second is that Steele is receiving unusually high levels of black support. According to the Sun poll, about one-quarter of African Americans intend to vote Republican. Normally, that result would be enough to tank a Democratic candidacy but Cardin is making it up among whites; Cardin leads Steele by 66-24 among whites.

The race could likely change in two ways. First, Cardin could more successfully link Steele with Bush so that Steele's share of the black vote declines. Cardin's overall lead would naturally increase as a result. While Steele is receiving abnormally high levels of black support for a Republican, only so many African Americans will shift their support away from the Democrats based on Steele's race. I think it unlikely that Steele will get much more black support than he does now unless something truly dramatic occurs.

Second, Steele could convince more whites who normally vote Republican to come home which could make the race tighten. However, that is going to be tough to accomplish as long as he keeps playing down his conservative credentials and Republican affiliation in order to attract African-American Democrats and independents. Indeed, Steele even has signs up claiming he is a Democrat. I suspect Cardin's bland personality and history of representing whites who live in swing regions of the state may help him hold on to these Republican-leaning white voters. To the extent that white support for Cardin is racially based, it will be even harder for Steele to win them back.

Steele may try to run a dual campaign where he has it one way among blacks and one way among whites but that may be difficult to accomplish in such a high-profile contest. Unfortunately for Steele, any moves he makes to attract one constituency are likely to lose him votes among another.


No on Paper Ballots

It sounds like a good idea and has even led MocoPolitics to give kudos to Ehrlich for being right on this one but a last-minute switch to paper ballots strikes me as inadvisable even though I understand its allure. It sounds so simple. Just print more absentee ballots and hand 'em out on Election Day to registered voters.

Unforunately, it is not so simple. First, one would have to retrain all of the poll workers on how to handle the ballots. Sounds simple for handling paper ballots but not so easy when it involves retraining thousands of poll workers at the last minute. Moreover, poll workers do a lot more than check people off a list and hand out ballots (just look at the size of the manual used by election judges). Retraining all these workers is simply not possible.

Second, new voting areas with appropriate privacy screens would have to be set up at every single polling place in the state. It doesn't sound that difficult but you try coordinating the setting up of appropriate tables and privacy screens for precincts around the state with only around fifty days lead time. Don't forget that they must be disabled accessible.

Third, the legislature would have to meet in special session to pass any new changes. What is the chance of the General Assembly and Ehrlich agreeing on a piece of legislation that would actually improve the situation rather than throwing it into complete chaos? Remember the clock is ticking and Election Day would be even closer by the time the wrangling is done so the Board of Elections would have even less time to implement changes.

And these are just the problems that came to mind at 1AM.

We are just going to have to muddle through with these machines one last time. I already posted on the key steps which need to be taken to assure a reasonably satisfactory election on November 7th. I was pleased to learn that the Board of Elections is already working on backup ballots for precincts with problem voting or check-in machines. This should hopefully prevent a repeat of the mistaken misuse of provisional ballots for non-provisional voters but is far less complex than simply junking the old system in its entirety.

Fortunately, the provisional ballots suggest that the machine probably tallied the results fine as the results from the provisional ballots overwhelmingly matched the machines. There is a solution for those who don't want to vote by machine: vote absentee. If you don't trust the mails either, go to the Board of Elections and cast your absentee ballot in person there. It's far from perfect but frankly I'll settle for good enough for this one election.


Ridiculous Baltimore Sun Headline

On Sunday, the Baltimore Sun ran a story with the strange headline "Governor's race tight: Poll shows O'Malley holding a slight lead over Ehrlich". The headline was positively bizarre because the story contained the following information:

O'Malley, a Democrat, has a 6-percentage-point lead among likely voters, 50 percent to 44 percent, about the same margin he held over the Republican incumbent in July.
One would think "tightening" would imply a substantially smaller lead by O'Malley rather than "about the same." Moreover, incumbents rarely trail challengers in gubernatorial races unless they are in deep trouble. Close analysis of the poll contains even worse news for Ehrlich:
O'Malley has the solid support of his party's base. Liberals back him overwhelmingly - 81 percent to 11 percent - and Democrats back him by a 70 percent to 19 percent margin.

But he also retains a 15 percentage point lead among moderate voters, the sort who abandoned the Democratic Party to support Ehrlich in 2002.

Another positive sign for the mayor is that he holds a 17 percentage point lead among frequent voters, the ones most likely to come to the polls if turnout is low, as it was in this month's primary.
The Sun touts that Ehrlich has strong support from his base too. While O'Malley does better among liberals than Democrats, Ehrlich fares better among Republicans than conservatives:
Likely voters who identify themselves as conservatives back Ehrlich 73 percent to 19 percent, and Republicans support him by an 81 percent to 12 percent spread.
Ehrlich has been running a barrage of advertisements in the Baltimore media market designed to restore the lead he had in 2002 in the region. It hasn't worked. Indeed, the worst news for Ehrlich in the Sun poll is regarding his supposed base in Baltimore County:
Last time, Ruppersberger said, Ehrlich won the county by more than 20 percentage points. If he wins by only 10 this time, Ruppersberger said, he will lose the race.

Ehrlich said at a recent campaign stop that his goal for the county is 60 percent - "The first lady says 65," he joked. But the Sun poll shows he's now leading there by just 5 percentage points, 46 percent to 41 percent. At this point in 2002, the Sun poll found he was leading in the county 58 percent to 31 percent.

The new poll shows Ehrlich and O'Malley are in a statistical tie in the Baltimore region, which includes Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll and Harford counties - as well as the city. Apart from Baltimore City, Ehrlich carried each of those jurisdictions by wide margins in 2002.
Ehrlich is in deep trouble. His advertising blitz in the Baltimore media market has utterly failed to shift public opinion. Public opinion in elections tends to be like hardening concrete with voters getting more difficult to shift as Election Day approaches unless something major occurs. Ehrlich showed a lot of bravado saying that defeating Peter Franchot for Comptroller was a major priority. He better save his own skin first.

So far, Ehrlich has yet to generate either the support or the enthusiasm which led to his becoming the first Republican governor in a generation. While Ehrlich is far more popular than Bush, the president's unpopularity cannot help him. Indeed, loathing for Bush fires up Democrats even as it discourages Republicans. Moreover, O'Malley has already proven himself a stronger campaigner than Townsend.

Still, O'Malley has work to do. The Republican turnout machine is now far better than that of the Democrats. Ehrlich certainly whipped Townsend in turning out his base in 2002. O'Malley needs to assure not only that he wins Montgomery and Prince George's, portions of the state where he is not well known, but motivates all of those loyal Democrats, some of whom may be discouraged by the problems at the polls on primary day, to get out and vote. Moreover, Ehrlich remains well-liked so it may be harder to stir up Democrats to turn up to vote him out. After all, Bush is on the ballot.

Ehrlich is in serious trouble. But it isn't over until it's over.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Security Procedures "Blatantly Not Followed"

The Washington Post reports on how problems in training undercut the security of the election and slowed the compilation of the election results:

The widely publicized failure in Prince George's County to electronically transmit results from many polls after the Sept. 12 primary was compounded by a host of other errors, including failure to swiftly collect the data cards on which some votes are recorded and to properly secure voting machines.

The last of the cards were not retrieved and counted until nine days after the balloting -- several from inside electronic voting machines from a Landover precinct where Robert J. McGinley, the county elections board's attorney, said security procedures were "just blatantly not followed."

In some instances, machines containing cards were found in storage cases that lacked a required security seal. In others, tamper tape was missing from a locked door on the machine. In still others, data cards were found in machines on which doors were not locked.

Despite the roiling debate over whether electronic voting machines might be hacked into and an election stolen, the experience of Prince George's suggests a more mundane and probably widespread challenge in voting's digital age: Armies of minimally trained, modestly paid election workers are increasingly confronted with an unfamiliar, complex business.

Although the voting process was less dramatically flawed in Prince George's than in neighboring Montgomery County, the nearly two weeks since have seethed with suspicion and recrimination.

The elections board disqualified none of the cards, but the lapses undercut assurances that officials offered after the primary. Robert J. Antonetti Sr., interim Prince George's election administrator, had said 47 uncounted cards would remain safe because of the multiple security measures.

Montgomery officials shouldn't feel grateful that the attention has shifted slightly to the east for a day. As you can see, The article declares that the problems were "dramatically less flawed" in Prince George's than in Montgomery.


Final Primary Counts In

No surprises now that the final tally is in from the primary elections in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, though I still cannot find the Prince George's totals on their website. Donna Edwards lost to incumbent Fourth District Rep. Al Wynn by a mere 2,725 votes. As expected, her majority in Montgomery was insufficient to overcome his majority in Prince George's. No changes occurred in the outcome of any of the state legislative contests. In District 18, for example, the provisional ballot tally in the delegate race was exactly the same as that on the machines.


Saturday, September 23, 2006

L'Shana Tova (Happy New Year)

I've been invited to go doorknocking for the Democratic Coordinated Campaign on Rosh Hashanah. I'm not offended by the invitation (I'm Jewish but then so is the Chair of the Maryland Democratic Party) but I'm appalled at the lack of political acumen. I felt bad enough when I inadvertantly knocked on the doors of a few observant Jewish voters on Shabbat during the primary campaign.

Is the plan to avoid knocking on the doors of suspected Jewish households? Doesn't Israel (and Virginia Sen. George Allen) already have enough problems with the "Who is a Jew?" question that we don't need to import it into Montgomery County? I bet it is even harder here due to mixed marriages. I've known Jewish families with names like McCoy and Church. Not all Jewish homes have a mezuzah on the door.

What is the Democratic Party thinking on this one?


Senate Minority Stepping Down, Troubles for Miller?

The Gazette reports that Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus (R-Somerset) plans to step down as Senate Minority Leader when the General Assembly reconvenes after the 2006 elections. Reelection was not a barrier to his serving as leader of the currently 14-member Republican Caucus as Stoltzfus is unopposed for reelection.

Meanwhile, Senate President Mike Miller (D-Calvert) may face more pressure from within the currently 33-member Democratic Caucus as "liberal insurgents" have won several primaries. Jamie Raskin defeated Ida Ruben in District 20 (Takoma Park). Former Del. Jim Rosapepe defeated John Gianetti in District 21 (Laurel). Miller supported both of the incumbents. Sen. Paula Hollinger, described as a Miller lieutenant, left the Senate to pursue an unsuccessful bid for Congress.

Miller is the longest serving legislative leader in the country with two decades of service as Maryland's Senate President so one underestimates this powerful and wily politician at their peril even if all political careers must come to an end sooner or later (and Miller is now closer to sooner). Read the Gazette article for more details about the challenges Miller will face when the dust settles after the election.


The End is Nigh

According to a member of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, 10,059 out of around 11,700 provisional ballots were counted by Friday afternoon. However, a new programming problem arose in the State's MDVoters software. They have to manually research 200 voters to prove their party affiliation so they can be sure that voted the correct ballot in the correct precinct. Nevertheless, the Board will resume counting at 1PM on Saturday and hope to post a final provisional count on the Board's website by 5PM.

Meanwhile, the Gazette reports on the election follies in our sister county of Prince George's. Apparently, they have almost finished the machine tallies there. However, reports of irregularities will not calm those who fear that close races were stolen:

The Board also finished counting the thousands of provisional and absentee ballots, meaning the only step left is to certify the election, which will be done today.

The 47 cards, which officials began counting Wednesday, had been left accidentally in machines from 26 precincts. Elections administrator Robert Antonetti said the Board could not retrieve them on election night because they were locked in the buildings where they had been used.

But as officials uploaded the cards in the warehouse at the Board’s headquarters in Upper Marlboro, they noticed some irregularities with the machines holding the cards. Most of the problems involved 12 machines from a precinct in Landover. Tamper tape, which is supposed to be sealed over the machines to show that they have not been disturbed, was not in the right place on some of those machines.

Board attorney Robert McGinley said proper procedure had been ‘‘blatantly not followed” in that precinct. The Board even called one of the chief judges from that precinct on Thursday to testify on the matter.

But McGinley said there was no actual evidence of outside tampering in those machines. The problems were logged, and the votes from those machines were still counted.

‘‘We’ve noted all the concerns,” McGinley said. ‘‘We have documented well ... any irregularities found in these machines.
Although the Gazette claims that the results were to have been certified by close of business on Friday, they are still not posted to the Prince George's website.


Friday, September 22, 2006

Republicans Play the Race Card . . . Again

The Washington Post reports that the National Black Republican Association is running radio ads saying that Democrats "passed those black codes and Jim Crow laws" and "started the Ku Klux Klan." The ads have the virtue of being historically accurate on this point but mendacious in their implication about the stances of the two parties on racial issues today. The short Post report left out that the ads also attack gay marriage (hey, beat up on one minority to get the support of another!) and say that the Democrats want to "keep us poor". Listen for yourself here.

In another of his ongoing series of flip-flops, Michael Steele defended the ads yesterday but then today said that they are "insulting". To his credit, Steele at least ended up on the right side in the end on this one. Of course, we'll have to wait a bit to see if this opinion really takes or is subject to repeated reversal like his views on President Bush.


Ehrlich Accuses Duncan of Faking Depression

According to Laura Vozella's column in the Baltimore Sun, Bob Ehrlich is claiming that Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch "saved Martin O'Malley from what was sure to be a vicious primary fight". Is Ehrlich, who expressed sympathy to Duncan at the time, now claiming that Doug Duncan was faking depression for the good of the Democratic Party?

The idea that Duncan took a dive or invented depression to get out of the primary is not just ridiculous, it's mean. Duncan could have used the usual blah, blah of wanting to spend more time with his family or do what is best for the party if he wanted out of the gubernatorial primary campaign. Instead, our County Executive courageously chose to share some very personal information and explain the truth.

Ehrlich owes not only Duncan but Miller and Busch an apology for this nasty slur which reflects far more on the character of his campaign than that of the Democrats.


Love Tap or Punch?

Developer Leo Bruso has accused Senate President Mike Miller (D-Calvert) of slugging him with a punch to the jaw as he left a Prince George's County Council meeting. Miller, who will have to appear in court to defend himself, completely denies the accusation. Both the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun report that Miller has a witness, Yates Clagett, who supports his side:

"When he got to Leo, he grabbed Leo's arm and not even in a swing or anything placed his fist on Leo's cheek in a kind of a 'Hey buddy, how you doing.' It was not a swing, it was not malicious, it was a 'Hey, man, how you doing, good to see you,' politician kind of thing," said Clagett, who counts Miller as a family friend and has done business with Bruso.

"And then Mr. Bruso immediately snapped and swung at Senator Miller and hit Senator Miller, and I saw Senator Miller's head come back," Clagett said. "If anybody should be filing a complaint, it ought to be Senator Miller against Mr. Bruso."

Unless Bruso can produce a witness or a hospital report, it sounds like Miller should have no problem explaining his conduct in court.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ehrlich Stole My Idea

OK, it wasn't mind-bogglingly original even when I said it. However, the idea that people should vote by absentee ballot makes sense for any good GOTV (get-out-the-vote) organization. Why wait until Election Day when you can snag votes for your party in advance?


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

New Polls on Senate and Gov Races

Two sets of polls were released on September 20th by SurveyUSA and Rasmussen on the senatorial and gubernatorial races in Maryland.

The results from the two pollsters for the Senate race clash to say the least. The SurveyUSA poll places Michael Steele in the lead with 48% compared to 47% for Ben Cardin. Rasmussen has Cardin at 50%--a full seven points ahead of Michael Steele who is at 43%. The SurveyUSA poll is more at odds with other recent polls while Rasmussen is consistent with the usual finding placing Cardin in the lead.

Rasmussen has Democrat Martin O'Malley with a lead of 49% to 42% over Republican Bob Ehrlich in the gubernatorial contest. These results are very similar to the figures reported by Rasmussen over the past several months. Unlike for the senatorial contest, the results from SurveyUSA confirm Rasmussen's findings. SurveyUSA places O'Malley at 51% and Ehrlich at 44%--another seven-point lead for the Democrat.

The reason SurveyUSA shows O'Malley ahead but Cardin trailing is due almost entirely to much lower support for Cardin among black voters. While O'Malley receives support from 78% of black voters compared to 15% for Ehrlich, Cardin gets the backing of only 63% of black voters compared to 33% for Steele. SurveyUSA furhter has Cardin two points below O'Malley among white voters.

Why do the Senate polls show such different results? Survey USA included 522 likely voters surveyed from September 17-19. Rasmussen polled 500 likely voters on September 13th. Perhaps the Mfume's defeat has generated a backlash and spurred greater support for Steele among black voters. If so, Cardin could be in real trouble as Republicans almost never get much above 15-20% of the black vote, let alone 33%.

The SurveyUSA poll could also be a rogue poll. Actual public opinion will differ from the result reported in the poll by more than the margin of error for one in twenty polls. There are a lot of polls out there--some have to fall into this 5 percent. The pollsters could be weighting parties, races, or regions differently. However, one cannot compare. While SurveyUSA releases at least some crosstabs to the public, Rasmussen only allows premium subscribers a peek at them so I can only speculate about differences in the methodology.

The next few polls to be released should help confirm if the SurveyUSA result in the Senate race is an aberration or a sign of greater support for Steele among black voters, and thus the overall electorate, due to backlash at Mfume's defeat or the success of Steele's clever commercials.


Vote Absentee, Vote Once

Maryland may have faulty voting machines but it fortunately also has no-fault absentee voting. This means that anyone can request and vote absentee even if they will be at home on the day of the election. If the Democrats (and for that matter, the Republicans) are smart, they will encourage voters to cast absentee ballots. Each Democrat who votes by absentee ballot is a vote already in the bag and makes the get-out-the-vote effort on Election Day that much easier.

Voters should vote absentee because it will assure that they are able to vote. No problem if the polling place doesn't open on time. No problem if the check-in machine crashes. No chance of having to vote by provisional ballot. No long lines if many people show up at the polls. In short, vote absentee, vote once--it may be once more than if you wait until November 7th. If you live in Montgomery County, go download your application here now.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Selling Steele

During the 2002 gubernatorial campaign, Bob Ehrlich presented himself as a nice, pleasant suburbanite. When I watched the 2002 debate at Morgan State, I wondered in what closet his campaign had stashed that guy and why didn't they bring him out again as he was so much more likeable than the drip who showed up a the debate.

I have the same reaction to Steele's advertisements. Steele is a man of few accomplishments who. like Townsend, was plucked out of relative obscurity to serve as lieutenant governor. As lite gov, he headed the Commission on Quality Education which went nowhere. However, Steele did find the time to defend the Ehrlich Administration incoherently as well as attend the 2004 Republican Convention where he lauded President Bush.

Steele's commercials, however, present a smart, cool man I would like to get to know. He isn't into partisanship--he doesn't even bother to mention his partisan affiliation--and wants to reform Washington. His most recent commercial keeps up the light, hip, straight-talking feel of his first one:

Too bad this Steele isn't any more real than the nice suburbanite in Ehrlich's 2002 commercials. While the man on TV promises to curtail the influence of lobbyists and shed light into the dark corners of Washington Steele been happy to accept many donations for lobbyists. Steele's has also tightly embraced the Bush Administration when it suited him, such as at the 2004 Republican Convention when it won him a prime speaking spot or at a 2006 fundraiser where Vice President Cheney spoke.

Michael Steele's campaign is laudably, albeit pragmatically, pursuing African-American voters, a community that Republicans generally write off or pursue more with an eye to attracting moderate white swing voters who value tolerance. However, another of Steele's commercials indicates that he plans to challenge the Democrats fiercely for the African-American vote:

The Democrats made it easier for him to make a play for black voters by nominating Rep. Ben Cardin, who is white, instead of former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who is black and a former head of the NAACP. Regardless of how it came about, it is certainly to the advantage of African Americans to be courted vigorously by both parties--something that has happened far too infrequently--even though I believe that African Americans, and all Marylanders, would be vastly better served by having Ben Cardin in the Senate.

Cardin certainly doesn't intend to cede the black vote to Steele. He is working hard to link Steele to President Bush:

Linking Steele to Bush is a wise strategy because of Bush's approval rating among African Americans is a staggeringly low 12% according to the latest SurveyUSA poll. Still, Steele's campaign is doing surprisingly well--at least as well as that of the incumbent governor who is in the political fight of his life.

It is hard to imagine Maryland electing its first Republican senator since 1980 in a year when a Republican president is so unpopular. Even if Steele is making it a real race, close only counts in horseshoes as the saying goes and Steele still trails Cardin. However, Maryland Democrats better fight hard if they want to be sure that this one doesn't accidentally slip away. It wouldn't hurt if Cardin to add a bit of zing to the methododical planning that won him the primary and has served him so well over his long political career. Maybe Mfume can give him some tips.


Farrington Concedes in District 18

Montgomery County is still counting the ballots but Dan Farrington just sent out the following email to his supporters:

I am humbled and honored by your support throughout my campaign for the House of Delegates and by all of your calls of encouragement during this last week of uncertainty.

The morning after Election Day, we were within less than 400 votes of victory with thousands of absentee and provisional ballots left to count. Although it will be several more days before all of the ballots are counted, the Board of Elections has now posted precinct results that allow us to project the outcome of the provisional ballots. Unfortunately, it does not look like we will make up sufficient ground to win.

The irregularities of Election Day and the closeness of the race have led many to encourage me to see all of the votes counted before conceding. Given the incredible hurdles that many voters had to surmount to cast ballots last Tuesday, I do believe it is critical to the integrity of this election -- and to turnout in future elections -- that all of the votes be counted. I also believe, however, that it is unlikely the outcome will change and the time has come to move on. I spoke with Jeff Waldstreicher earlier today, congratulated him on his victory and pledged to do what I can to support the Democratic ticket in November. I hope you will join me in supporting Maryland’s Democrats during the fall campaigns.

Working with my 4 ½ year-old son through his disappointment with the outcome of the election has helped me put our loss into perspective. As I told him, I ran because I wanted to help our community become an even better place to live. Even though we did not achieve the outcome we wanted, we can hold our heads high because we tried our best. I am proud of the positive, grassroots campaign we ran and am proud that our ideas resonated with so many thousands of people.

I promise that I will remain engaged to see that the things in which we all believe continue to move forward in Maryland. Thank you for your friendship and your support.
I would not have blamed Dan for waiting until all the ballots were counted just as a matter of principle before conceding the race even though I thought he had little chance of taking the lead. However, one also can understand completely why he might want to bring this primary election to a belated close.


Getting It Together for November 7th

The blame game is in full swing about the election fiasco. As a result, I am increasingly concerned that the actual issues critical to carrying out the general election are being ignored. Here some issues on which the County Board of Elections needs to focus before the general election:

(1) Montgomery County needs to make sure the cards (VACs) get delivered with the machines. This problem ought to be easy to solve.

(2) The voter check-in machines crashed and then recorded voters as having voted when they were rebooted. This problem needs to be solved or voters could end up disenfranchised. Fortunately, everyone within a precinct should receive the same ballot (unless some council, state legislative, or congressional districts divide precincts) in the general election so this should be a slightly smaller problem than in the primary when the card had to be encoded with the party of the voter to make sure that the voter could cast a ballot in the correct party primary. Still, we need to know if this is a problem with some of the cards or the machines themselves.

(3) There needs to be a backup system in case of voting machine failure other than allowing voters to cast provisional ballots . There should be separate paper ballots available to voters if the check-in or voting machines should malfunction or there is a problem with the electricity. These ballots must be kept separately from any provisional ballots as these backup ballots are not provisional but ballots with votes which ought to be counted. The state may need to pass emergency legislation or enact emergency regulations allowing paper ballots as a backup system. If so, they should do so with dispatch.

(3) Montgomery County should organize and aggressively encourage poll workers to take additional training to avoid further confusion at the polls.

(4) Ballots cast due to extended voting must be cast provisionally according to the law. A new regulation should require the separation of these ballots from regular provisional ballots as there is no question that ballots cast during a period of extended should be counted unless there is a successful court challenge to the extended voting (unless, of course, the voter would normally have had to cast a provisional ballot).

The state clearly needs to reassess its voting technology and the administration of elections. However, there is no time to judiciously study these issues and implement change before the general election. We need to focus on getting the current system to work as well as possible in advance of the forthcoming general election.


Monday, September 18, 2006

The Counting Continues

Maryland starts counting provisional ballots today, including the 12,000 or so provisional ballots cast in Montgomery.

Can anyone explain why two precincts in Prince George's are not reporting yet?

The more acerbic and suspcious among us are beginning think that they are simply holding back to see how many votes Al Wynn needs to defeat Donna Edwards. I am sure that both candidates will be watching the results of counting in both Montgomery and Prince George's very carefully.


Post-Primary Events

The Women's Suburban Democratic Club Kiss and Make-Up at the Chevy Chase Holiday Inn attracted more winners than losers to its event on Friday night. I couldn't stay long but stayed long enough to hear Democratic County Executive Nominee Ike Leggett make a short, strong, and gracious speech. Leggett spoke very kindly of his opponent, Steve Silverman, who had attacked him fiercely in the primary. Leggett's only oblique dig was his conclusion that his campaign proves that "Good guys with good ideas" finish first in Montgomery County.

Equality Montgomery held a wild and crazy party on Sunday afternoon at the Clara Barton Recreation Center. OK, it was really a picnic with hot dogs and make your own sundaes with kids running around between the political candidates. Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Montgomery native, informed the crowd that he had pitched his single no hitter game of baseball right there and made a short, passionate speech calling for inclusion. Rep. Chris Van Hollen came up the road from an event of his own to say hello and made extremely clear his strong support for gay and lesbian rights. Other attendees included Del. (soon to be Sen.) Richard Madaleno, Del. Jane Lawton, and Democratic Delegate Nominee Jeff Waldstreicher. School Board Candidates, including Shirley Brandman and Judy Docca, were also there. Even perennial candidate Tommy Le made an appearance.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

The 800 lb Gorilla of MoCo Politics

Adam Pagnucco is a leader in the fight for a pedestrian tunnel under Georgia Ave. at Forest Glen and had the following take on the primary election:

The mainstream media and the blogs are characterizing the 2006 Democratic primary in Maryland’s Montgomery County as the year that voters turned against growth. After all, many of the county-level winners – especially Ike Leggett, Marc Elrich, Duchy Trachtenberg and Valerie Ervin – ran on slow (or slower) growth platforms. So-called pro-growth candidates like Steve Silverman did not do as well. There is some truth to this story. However, to understand the results completely, we must realize that 2006 is the year the Teachers Union became the 800 pound gorilla of Montgomery County politics.

I first realized this while I was working at the polls on primary day. I spent all day at my precinct circulating a petition to build an east-side Metro entrance at Georgia and Forest Glen. I talked to all the political volunteers who showed up. Many candidates sent volunteers: county executive candidates Silverman and Leggett, county council candidates Ervin and Hans Riemer, and six of the eight District 18 state delegate candidates. Many candidates also showed up in person for parts of the day. The volunteers behaved pretty much the same way: chasing voters and giving them their candidates’ literature. Some voters took it while others didn’t. In many cases, the volunteers seemed to neutralize each other.

However, the candidates were not the only ones who sent volunteers. For almost the entire day, volunteers with the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) were present at the precinct. These volunteers distributed the MCEA's “Apple Ballot” – a district-customized endorsement list appearing on a red, apple-shaped handout. The MCEA volunteers did not tell voters that the Apple Ballot candidates were endorsed by the Teachers Union. Instead, they asked them, “Would you like to know who teachers are voting for?” The majority of the voters said yes, took the ballot, and read it before entering the booth. The fact that the public schools were closed on primary day no doubt helped the MCEA field an army of these volunteers across the county.

Many voters had pre-conceived opinions about some of the top-ticket races, especially Cardin-Mfume for U.S. Senate and Leggett-Silverman for County Executive (both races in which the Teachers made no endorsements). However, most had no opinion on the down-ticket races such as county council, state legislature and school board. That is where the Apple Ballot made the biggest difference. After all, who wants to vote against teachers?

The MCEA endorsed 41 county, statehouse and school board candidates. Of those candidates, 30 had contested races. Apple Ballot candidates won 27 races and lost 3. That’s an astounding 90% success rate. The Teachers had decisive impacts on the following races:

At-Large County Council
Montgomery County has four at-large county council seats, and all were up for election. Three incumbents were running: George Leventhal, Nancy Floreen and Mike Subin. Ten challengers were also running, of whom the strongest were Marc Elrich and Duchy Trachtenberg. Conventional wisdom would dictate that the three incumbents would cruise to victory as the ten challengers diluted each other’s votes. But the Teachers had other ideas.

MCEA was upset that Floreen and Subin had supported delaying a 2003 cost-of-living increase that was due to teachers under their contract because of budget problems. As a result, Leventhal and challengers Elrich and Trachtenberg made the Apple Ballot, while incumbents Floreen and Subin were excluded. The Apple candidates won the top three slots, while Floreen earned the fourth seat and Subin lost. Subin’s loss was particularly notable because he was a 20-year council veteran and the long-time head of the council’s education committee.

District 5 County Council
Two candidates were running for this Silver Spring-Takoma Park-Wheaton-Kensington seat: school board member and council staffer Valerie Ervin, and Rock the Vote political director Hans Riemer. Ervin had the endorsements of most Montgomery County organizations and the advantages of council connections and a long residency. Riemer outraised Ervin $118,000 to $57, 000 – far outpacing Ervin in individual contributions – and knocked on at least three times as many doors. Most bloggers were calling this a close race. But the Apple was telling voters to support Ervin.

At my precinct, Riemer’s volunteers were present all day while Ervin’s came and went. Riemer’s people thought they had the field to themselves, but I told them, “You’re not competing with the Ervin people. You’re competing with those ladies with the apples.” The power of the Apple prevailed and Ervin blew out Riemer 62%-38%.

District 18 State Legislature
One of the three state delegate seats opened up when the incumbent state senator retired and one of the three incumbent delegates moved up to run for senate. The resulting open delegate seat attracted six challengers in addition to the two incumbents who were running for re-election. The field was deep: all six were solid candidates and had pockets of support in the district.

The two incumbents were Jane Lawton and Ana Gutierrez, who ran on a slate with the uncontested state senate candidate. Lawton worked hard, visited the neighborhoods, appeared at dozens of events and finished first with 20% of the vote. Gutierrez’s efforts focused almost solely on Spanish-language media, but that plus her slate support and incumbency earned her second place with 16% of the vote. And of course, both were apple-approved.

That left the third and final slot, and the two strongest contenders were young, aggressive lawyers Dan Farrington and Jeff Waldstreicher. At first glance, Farrington appeared to hold most of the advantages. Sometimes compared to Bill Clinton, Farrington surpassed Waldstreicher in public speaking and one-on-one contact and earned the Washington Post and Gazette endorsements (neither of which backed Waldstreicher). And while both candidates raised slightly more than $100,000, about 90% of Waldstreicher’s money came from himself and his family while Farrington had more than 450 contributors. One advantage Farrington did not possess was work ethic; both candidates worked extremely hard. Waldstreicher’s pesky, hustling style matched Farrington’s omnipresence and the two blanketed the district.

But Waldstreicher was the Apple candidate and let everyone know it. Every one of his literature pieces showed the apple, and he usually started off his voter contacts saying he was “teacher-endorsed.” Visitors to his website even found a giant red apple flying across the screen before seeing the candidate’s picture! Waldstreicher’s apple-carriers earned him a 392-vote victory for the final delegate seat (pending provisional ballot counting).

As for the school board, apple-endorsed Shirley Brandman won 59% of the vote in a 5-way contest for the at-large seat. And apple-endorsed Nancy Navarro won 57% of the vote in a 3-way race for the District 5 seat. If those winning percentages resemble each other, it’s probably not a coincidence.

Of course, each of these races involved other factors besides the Teachers. Voters were clearly tired of development, and that favored Elrich and Trachtenberg. Ervin’s supporters consistently criticized Riemer for his two-year county residency even as they were privately surprised by his fund-raising and hyperactive door-knocking. And the county’s widespread voting machine meltdown may have affected the District 18 statehouse race. But the MCEA’s ballot was the common thread in all these contests. I personally witnessed over a hundred voters reading the Apple while turning away candidate-specific literature from the other volunteers.

So what does the Teachers’ emergence as Montgomery County’s dominant political force mean for the future? With property tax growth slowing down, the next county council will face tough budgetary decisions. Public schools account for half of the county’s budget and would be an obvious location for cuts. But don’t expect any action there: the county’s politicians have learned that those who cross the Teachers Union once are unlikely to be given a second opportunity.

My Take: The teachers have an enormous incentive to be active in elections as the County has enormous control over their jobs and work environment. The democratic process is supposed to be open to participation so it is far from shocking that a group with a lot at stake in the outcome is active in the process. Moreover, by endorsing early and sending repeated flyers with their endorsement as well as providing workers at the polls, MCEA provides a lot of added value with their endorsement.

MCEA unquestionably has a lot of influence. They helped defeat incumbents in District 39 and for the County Council at-large. However, they also endorsed a lot of candidates with strengths beyond support from the teachers either in terms of issues or background. MCEA candidates failed to win in Districts 17 and 19. I doubt MCEA would have had such success in electing their preferred candidates if the issue climate had been unfavorable. Still, their support is extremely valuable and candidates would be foolish to alienate them.


District 18 Concession and Victory Emails

The following is an excerpt from a gracious letter from Kensington Councilman Al Carr, who fell short in his bid to become a delegate this year:

There are still absentee ballots and provisional ballots to be counted and added to the totals. However, it is unlikely that the result will change.

I believe that everything happens for a reason. This was not the right time for me, but I am confident that opportunities to serve lie ahead. I am grateful for all I have learned and the many friends I have made.

The campaign was fast-paced and took on a life of its own. We lived and breathed District 18 for five months. Whether playing at Wheaton Regional Park, shopping at Chevy Chase Supermarket or Sunday breakfast at Parkway Deli it seems we were always working the campaign into our everyday life.

There were lots of laughs, some tears and memories we will cherish (although Barrie just reminded me that we forgot to get a picture of the infamous Carr mobile that was sighted throughout District 18 - not only did our Volvo station wagon have Carr large campaign sign magnets and bumper stickers, our large storage bin atop the car was shrink-wrapped with the campaign logo. You knew when we arrived).

We could hear in four year old Miles' words that he had absorbed the campaign lingo. Today he mentioned to me "Daddy, Ike won and so did Ike Leggett. Does that mean we all won?". I responded "Yes Miles, we all won."

I have telephoned each of the District 18 Delegate candidates to offer my congratulations and express my gratitude. Everyone in this race had something to offer. As my dear friend and huge supporter Sean McMullen said, The voters of District 18 had an embarrassment of riches.

I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all those who supported me. It was a team effort.
Jeff Waldstreicher also sent out an email claiming victory:
Thank you so much for your hard work over the last five months. We started this campaign as the underdog, but you worked harder than anyone else, and you rallied behind our Education First platform. That hard work and that intense focus on improving our schools is what led us to victory on Tuesday.

I am deeply humbled by the overwhelming support I received from each precinct in District 18. We did incredibly well across the entire District, including Chevy Chase, Kensington,Wheaton and Silver Spring. I promise that I will work tirelessly to represent this entire district with the same style of progressive leadership of those who came before me, including Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Sen. Sharon Grosfeld.

A good number of public officials have called to congratulate our efforts and applaud our push for a progressive agenda in Annapolis. Please know that these congrats are as much yours as they are mine. I was honored to accept congratulatory calls from Del. Richard Madeleno, Del. Jane Lawton, Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez and Mayor Martin O'Malley's office, among many others. I am profoundly honored that my name will appear alongside theirs in the General Election come November.

Joanna and I will be taking a moment to catch our breath and enjoy this victory. But our hard work does not end here. I intend to work just as diligently over the next two months as I did over the past five to make sure our next Governor is Martin O'Malley and our next Senator is Ben Cardin. Our unity is our strength. I hope you will join me in working hard for these two incredible leaders and the rest of our Democratic ticket.

Again, thank you so much for your support. I am humbled by the opportunity to serve you in Annapolis and excited to put our shared values into action.
I was surprised Jeff didn't wait a little longer to claim victory since the ballots have not all been tallied. However, as I argued in a previous post, the full count is unlikely to change the outcome. The absentee ballots extended Jeff's victory over Dan Farrington by another 13 votes. It would be surprising if the provisional ballots had a sharply different effect.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Major Ignored Election Issue

Lisa Handley, a friend and expert on organizing elections, pointed out to me a major problem regarding last Tuesday's primary which has been almost totally ignored. She kindly agreed to write a short piece explaining more:

As a political scientist who has spent the last few years observing and assisting the UN and other international organizations with transitional elections in a host of Third World countries, I thought working the polls in the US (especially given the 2000 election debacle) might be educational. I signed up and served as an election judge in Montgomery County, Maryland and I must say, I got a bit more than I bargained for. But rather than reiterate all of the problems that have already been mentioned by other commentators and recap all of the usual solutions offered, I would like to point out a problem that has yet to be addressed by observers:

Very little training was provided and very few directives were issued on when and how to use provisional ballots. A provisional ballot is designed to be a “fail safe” measure to ensure that all eligible voters have an opportunity to cast a vote. Provisional ballots are normally cast in the following circumstances: a voter declares that he or she is eligible to vote but his or her name does not appear on the official list of eligible voters, the voter indicates a change of address (outside of the 21 day limit) or a different party affiliation than the one on record, the voter is listed as required to show identification but does not have it available, or the e-poll register indicates that the voter has been issued an absentee ballot or has already voted. On Election Day in Montgomery County, voters cast provisional ballots for a variety of additional, unanticipated, reasons: voter access cards (VACs) were missing and therefore the voting machines could not be used (this applies to all voters casting a ballot early in the morning), the voter cast a ballot during extended hours (this should have applied to all voters arriving at the polling station after 8:00 pm), or the e-poll machine crashed during the voter check-in process for a particular voter.

Because the Board of Elections (BOE) did not adequately plan for emergencies and because pollworker training was insufficient, pollworkers were unclear when provisional ballots were required and unsure of how to code the provisional ballots that were issued. What this ultimately means is that the BOE is, in many instances, not going to be able to distinguish between provisional ballots cast in the morning because the precinct was missing VACs, provisional ballots cast in the evening because of extended voting hours, provisional ballots cast because the pollworker mistakenly asked the voter to fill one out (i.e., unaffiliated voters and voters that moved within the 21 days were sometimes incorrectly asked to fill out a provisional ballot), and true provisional ballots that must be verified before being counted, counted in part, or not counted at all.

The BOE will have quite a task on their hands when, come Monday, they start to wade through the provisional ballots. And should the court decide that the provisional ballots cast after 8:00 pm not be counted – well, I rather suspect the BOE will face an impossible task.

Anyone have any idea how the Board of Elections intends to address this problem? As Lisa explains, many of the so-called "provisional" ballots were not meant to be provisional. At the same time, the Board of Elections needs to verify whether the genuine provisional ballots ought to be counted. However, in many cases, the provisional ballots are all mixed together.

It sounds like a serious lawsuit waiting to happen in close contests like the congressional race for the Fourth District of Maryland.


Madaleno's Mailbox

Del. Rich Madaleno, the District 18 Democratic nominee for Senate, received the following in his email this morning:

The truth about homosexuality is coming out in Maryland. Same-sex attraction and transgender feelings are abnormal, preventable, and treatable. They spring from faulty bonding and identification with the same-sex parent, starting during the critical period ages 18 months to five years.

The people of Maryland have been misinformed for decades. That is ending.

Feelings aren't facts. Perverse sexuality is a kind of addiction. You are too close to the problem to see it.
First male homosexuality was blamed on boys being too close to their mothers. Now the father is the problem. Lesbians are created by their mothers. I suppose that is an improvement over blaming it on too much sports in school.

There is some good news for gays and lesbians in this hate mail. Same-sex adoption of daughters by gay male couples and sons by lesbians should become all the rage. Since there is no same-sex parent involved, no problems can arise which would prevent the delicate flower that is heterosexuality from emerging.

Will someone please think of the children?

It's emails like these that make it hard to buy the idea that anyone really can "hate the sin but not the sinner." Anti-gay advocates adopt the minimum degree of tolerance required to gain a public hearing for their position. The happy news it that this level is now pretty high with support for civil unions widespread and support for marriage rising.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Project Delegate

We had major problems with elections in Montgomery last Tuesday--and this was just the primary in which only a small number of voters participate. Imagine if it had been a general election. We face two problems: election administration and lack of interest. I think I may have a solution: invite the producers of Project Runway to administer our elections.

For those of you who don't watch Project Runway, the premise is very simple. A group of designers compete for the opportunity to start their own clothing line. Each week, they are challenged to create a totally new outfit that meets some different set of conditions. After a runway show, judges critique the results. The creator of the worst outfit is declared the loser and doesn't come back next week.

State legislative primaries would be so much more interesting if they were conducted this way. Instead of knocking on doors begging people to speak to them, candidates would simply face a series of challenges. The last three remaining would get the delegate nominations. Each week, district residents could vote on the winner and the loser by telephone or internet.

For the first challenge on Project Delegate, candidates would have three hours to create a piece of campaign literature out of construction paper, child-proof scissors, crayons, paste, and glitter. John Gerson would serve as the special guest judge. The winner would receive the MCEA endorsement and several cute multiracial kids available to pose for actual campaign literature and web site photos, and the loser would be out.

For the second challenge, candidates would be divided into two teams. Each team would have one week to build a section of the Purple Line. The opponents of the above ground version would have to construct a tunnel near Chevy Chase while the supporters of light rail would have to lay track as residents attempt to disrupt their efforts. Hans "I will build the Purple Line or die trying" Riemer would serve as the special guest judge. The leader of the winning team will be in and the leader of the losing team will be out.

The third challenge would be a race. Candidates would have one week to convince as many voters as possible to put a sign in their yard even as they steathily tear down the signs of their candidates. Candidates would be penalized for each sign placed illegally in a public right-of-way. The winner of this challenge gets a billboard with Hillary Clinton next to the Connecticut Avenue exit of the Beltway. The loser will be out.

I bet you far more people would vote Project Delegate than did in the primaries last week. It wouldn't hurt if the host of the election was a smart, multilingual bombshell like Heidi Klum. Democrats are equal opportunity so they'd take a hunk as well. William Donald Schaefer could be a regular judge as he is bound to keep people watching and jaws dropping. Perhaps all the candidates could stay together at the Holiday Inn on Wisconsin Ave. so we could see how they interact behind-the-scenes and look first thing in the morning.


One Election Winner: MCEA

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) was unquestionably one of the big winners in Tuesday's primary.

All but three of their endorsed candidates for county or state legislative office in Montgomery won their primaries. The exceptions are one candidate for senate, Ida Ruben in District 20, and two candidates for delegate, Elbridge James in District 17 and Melodye Berry in District 19.

The power of MCEA was certainly on display in the County Council elections. Their three endorsed candidates came in first, second, and third. Nancy Floreen, a one-term incumbent who was at more forums which I attended than any other candidate, won the fourth seat. Longtime incumbent Michael Subin was defeated for reelection.

MCEA-endorsed school board candidates certainly romped to reelection. I can't say that I'm too surprised Shirley Brandman won their endorsement and tromped her opponents at the polls. She is smart, pleasant, and has an impressive resume as long as your arm. Not to mention that you could see those bright gold campaign t-shirts a mile away. Nancy Navarro also won despite being dissed by the Washington Post, a mysterious decision to at least some people I know who follow education issues in the County.

In state legislative elections, their endorsement probably helped longtime incumbent Marilyn Goldwater stave off a tough challenge from Washington Post-endorsed Reggie Oldak. However, MCEA's power is most apparent in District 18 where it seems safe to say that MCEA support accounts for Jeff Waldstreicher's small margin over Dan Farrington.


Races Still to be Determined?

The Washington Post reports today:

Because of the voting problems, Montgomery officials distributed up to 12,000 provisional paper ballots to voters. Officials also gave out 11,200 absentee ballots, 6,000 of which have been returned. The absentee ballots will begin to be counted today, the provisionals Monday.

The uncounted ballots could affect the outcomes of two House of Delegates races in the county, according to Samuel L. Statland, one of three voting members on the Board of Elections. Fewer than 400 votes separated Jeff Waldstreicher and Daniel Farrington, who were vying for District 18's third seat. In District 19, Benjamin Kramer led Paul Griffin by 238 votes.
According to the article, there are about 18,000 ballots remaining outstanding. However, it is rather unlikely that they will change the outcome of the election in District 18. The chance of a shift in District 19 is somewhat higher even if it is more likely than not that Kramer will remain ahead of Griffin.

First, remember that there is a high rate of roll-off in state legislative elections so the number of state legislative votes to be counted is smaller than number of ballots outstanding. Among the 93,976 people who voted by machine, only 81,083 (86%) voted in the state senate races. There were 226,270 votes in the delegate races. Despite the higher rate of contestation in these races, this is the equivalent to only 75,423 ballots with three votes for delegate--80% of the number of ballots cast.

If people voted for state legislature at the same rate in the outstanding ballots, this means that there are really only 15,480 ballots with senate votes and the equivalent of 14,400 ballots with delegate votes left to be counted. If one assumes that the share of outstanding ballots in each legislative district is very roughly equivalent to the share of delegate votes cast by machine on Election Day in each district (a rough assumption but one that will serve for our purposes), there are around 2199 ballots remaining in District 18 and 2098 ballots in District 19.

Remember that each person can cast only one vote for a delegate candidate even though they have three votes. In the votes counted so far in the District 18 delegate race, Jeff Waldstreicher received a delegate vote from 46% of voters and Dan Farrington received a delegate vote from 43% of the ballots. Dan would need votes on more than 64% of the outstanding ballots to overtake Jeff assuming Jeff still received a vote from 43% of the ballots. This is possible but not likely. (The real figures are undoubtedly different depending on the share of voters who didn't cast three votes for delegate; this could benefit Jeff as easily as Dan.) Dan may be hoping that the absentee ballot forms he included in a flyer sent to voters may have gotten him more votes but there was no spike in absentee ballot applications in the wake of the flyer including the form.

In the District 19 race, Ben Kramer received votes from 42% of ballots compared to 40% for Paul Griffin. Griffin would need to win votes on 54% of the outstanding ballots in order to overtake Kramer. This is clearly more likely than Farrington overtaking Waldstreicher in District 18. However, it remains more probable that Kramer will extend his lead.

These are all rough estimates that include important assumptions. Of course, smart candidates will wait until all the votes are counted before declaring victory in close races like these even as they reassure their supporters that the results look good. The public is not following these races closely so there is no political advantage in terms of public opinion to be gained by claiming victory before it is really official.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

LGBT Candidates

Del. Maggie McIntosh (District 43) and Del. Anne Kaiser (District 14), the two openly lesbian candidates who sought reelection, easily won their primaries. Incumbent Del. Richard Madaleno, the only incumbent openly gay delegate, won the Democratic nomination for the Senate in District 18. I wish I could claim that it was due to all of my hard work but he was unopposed.

Heather Mizeur was the only new openly gay or lesbian candidate to win her party's nomination. She not only won but topped the ballot in District 20, besting both incumbents and a slew of other hopefuls. Like the two incumbents, Mizeur is a lock for election in her extremely Democratic district. I don't know how many openly gay or lesbian legislators other states have but I bet four places Maryland in the top tier.

Neither Anthony McCarthy or Mary Washington, who were running in Baltimore City, succeeded in winning their party's nomination and thus Maryland will not elect the first African-American gay or lesbian state legislators. However, Washington came in an extremely respectable fourth behind the three incumbents in District 43. If one of them should leave the legislature, she would be in a good position to win appointment to the open seat. McCarthy came in a more distant fifth in his race in District 44.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, Dana Beyer sought to become the first openly transgendered legislator in Maryland and the nation. Dana came in a very respectable fifth behind two incumbents and two candidates who raised over $100,000 for the first House races. Even if Dana didn't win a seat, I think she made the largest advance for transgendered rights since the movie Transamerica came out. Through her campaign, many people got to know at least one transgendered person as a person. Her triumph was to be treated as a serious candidate, alternatively lauded and attacked for her positions and her campaign rather than being transgendered.


Women and Minorities in Montgomery Elections

Overall, last night was not a great for woman and minority candidates. Ike Leggett's victory was a rare bright spot. Stu Simms and Kweisi Mfume lost the marquee statewide primaries. Janet Owens now trails in the statewide race for comptroller.

Women in State Legislative Elections
Women didn't fare any better in Montgomery County state legislative elections. Going into the election, women held four of the eight state senate seats. Now, they hold two due to the replacement of retiring Sen. Sharon Grosfeld (District 18) by Del. Richard Madaleno and the defeat of Sen. Ida Ruben (District 20) by Prof. Jamie Raskin.

In, District 19, incumbent Del. Adrienne Mandel and Del. Carol Petzold ran against each other for the open senate seat. Both lost to newcomer Mike Lennett. All of the new delegates from the district will be men. Incumbent Del. Joan Stern was defeated by a male challenger in District 39. The sole state legislative gain made by a woman in Montgomery County is the pickup of a seat in District 20 by Heather Mizeur.

Despite the net loss of one seat, women will continue to hold 11 of the 24 delegate seats, assuming that Republican Del. Jean Cryor wins in District 15. Women will hold no seats only in Districts 17 and 19. Women will hold two of the three seats in all of the other districts except District 39 where only one woman will hold a house seat.

Women in County Elections
Women fared much better in County Council races. Incumbent Nancy Floreen held on to her at-large seat and will be joined by newcomer Duchy Trachtenberg. Neither will necessarily celebrate the victory of the other, however, as they represent rather different ends of the spectrum with the Montgomery Democratic Party.

School Board Member Valerie Ervin won the open District 5 Council seat. Incumbent Marilyn Praisner cruised to renomination in District 4. As a result, the number of women on the Montgomery County Council will likely rise from two to four out of nine. No women competed for the nomination for the county executive's office. The Clerk of the Circuit Court remains the only other countywide office held by a woman.

Minorities in State Legislative Elections
No minorities won election to the state senate from Montgomery.

Saqib Ali becomes the first Muslim and the third Asian American elected to the House of Delegates with his impressive win in District 39. Asian American Del. Susan Lee (District 16) and Del. Kumar Barve (District 17) won renomination.

African-American candidates fared very poorly in Montgomery state legislative elections. While Del. Herman Taylor (District 14) easily won renomination, Del. Gareth Murray (District 20) incredibly managed to come in last place as he went down to defeat. Elbridge James came in seventh of eight in District 17. Similarly, Kensington Councilman Al Carr came in seventh out of eight in District 18. In District 19, Melodye Berry and Guled Kassim ran last in a field of eight; Berry even had the MCEA endorsement. Craig Rice faced no opposition for the nomination of one of the delegate seats in District 15 but it is going to be tough for him to defeat incumbent Republican Del. Jean Cryor in the general election.

Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (District 18) remains the only Latino or Latina in the Montgomery state legislative delegation. Newcomer Oscar Ramirez also won a seat on Democratic Central Committee from District 18.

Minorities in County Elections
Ike Leggett's victory was of enormous significance. Valerie Ervin (District 5) will become the first African American on the Council since Leggett left the Council four years ago. She is the third African American to ever serve on the Council and the first black woman. Ervin replaced Tom Perez, the first Latino elected to the Council, who was disqualified from the attorney general's race. No new Latino was elected to the Council.

None of the three at-large African-American candidates came close to winning a seat. Bo Newsome even has the endorsement of the Post and the Gazette but was unable to capitalize on it. Former School Board Member Reggie Felton also ran well back in the pack of Council candidates. Felton was also endorsed by the Gazette. Donnell Peterman ran last in the race for one of the four at-large seats. Rockville Councilman Robert Dorsey was crushed 3-1 in his bid to unseat incumbent Councilman Phil Andrews in District 3.

Tufail Ahmad, the sole Asian American candidate for a council seat ran second to last in his bid for one of the four at-large seats.


State Legislative Dem Primaries

As you all undoubtedly know, Montgomery's returns are imcomplete right now, so take the following as a preliminary summary of the state of play rather than definitive.

District 14: All three incumbents romp to renomination.

District 15: No contest here. The general election is the main event.

District 16: Reggie Oldak came on strong but it looks as if Marilyn Goldwater will hold on to her seat in the House of Delegates. The other two delegate incumbents are far ahead.

District 17: The two incumbents easily won renomination to the House. Jim Gilchrist and Ryan Spiegel are battling it out for the third slot with Gilchrist in the lead by 375 votes.

District 18: The two incumbents lead the pack with Jane Lawton in a solid first place followed by Ana Sol Gutierrez with Jeff Waldstreicher and Dan Farrington in third and fourth. Dan trails Jeff by 396 votes and Jeff trails Ana by 264 votes. Jane's lead over Ana is currently 1246 votes. Dana Beyer is in fifth and trails Dan by 627 votes.

District 19: Mike Lennett is cruising to victory in the Senate race over the two delegates. In the delegate race, Roger Manno leads followed by incumbent Hank Heller, Ben Kramer, Paul Griffin and Alec Stone. Manno leads Heller by 818 who leads Kramer by 1242 who leads Griffin by 238 who leads Stone by 252.

District 20: This district has the two of the three losing incumbents in the County. Jamie Raskin beat longtime incumbent Sen. Ida Ruben by a 2-1 margin. Incumbent Del. Gareth Murray appears to turn in the worst performance of any incumbent in the county by far. He not only lost but came in last place. Heather Mizeur leads the delegate race and is 642 votes ahead of incumbent Del. Sheila Hixson who is just 37 votes ahead of Tom Hucker. Klein trails Hucker by 891 votes.

District 39: Saqib Ali crushed incumbent Del. Joan Stern. Ali's impressive campaign and history of bridge building combined with Stern's unpopularity with her colleagues clearly allowed Ali to overcome any bias against a Muslim candidate.