I got to tangle with two State Delegates—James Proctor (District 27) and Jay Walker (District 26)—about candidate slates and sample ballots at a townhall meeting in Accokeek last night. I made my points about the impact of slates and their sample ballots on lower ballot races. You can read my view on those things here and here, for example.
Not surprisingly, the incumbent delegates had little sympathy for my point of view. Delegate Proctor says he and his fellow incumbents carefully vet the candidates they endorse. He acknowledges that the slate endorsements have a significant impact on the races, and he is proud of what they do and how they do it. Delegate Walker stated that he feels many of the lower ballot races, such as Board of Education elections, are very important and he thinks he has to weigh in on them. At the end of the day, the incumbents’ rationale boils down to this: They feel they have the right and the responsibility to make endorsements.
My take on the issue is: Due to Maryland’s law allowing candidate slates and the tradition on sample ballot advertisements, these candidate endorsements are not mere endorsements—they are super-endorsements. In low-budget lower ballot races, well-funded slate advertisements tilt the playing field heavily toward the endorsed candidate. It would be very different if the incumbent’s endorsement meant that the candidate in the lower ballot race could issue a press release touting the endorsement, insert a joint picture of the two in a campaign brochure that the lower ballot candidate has paid himself/herself, and the two could hold joint campaign events. In other states, that is what an endorsement looks like.
I have no problem with incumbent politicians making endorsements in other political races. They have every right to do that. But, I feel the super-endorsements allowed by Maryland’s election laws run completely counter to our democratic values and the one-person-one-vote principle.