Category Archives: Candidate slates

Compromise Proposal on Election Reform Ideas

My County Councilman (and Council Chair) Mel Franklin and his fellow incumbents want to remove term limits, or at least have the ability to serve three terms.

I realize politics is about the art of the possible and compromise. Thus, I propose we merge my election reform ideas and the incumbents’ desire to have a third term. Before anything else, our Prince George’s County officials must put their weight behind election reforms to abolish the use of slates and their “sample ballot” advertisements. (As we know from experience, when our county politicians really want something, they can get it done. See: casino at National Harbor, school system reforms.) Once these desperately needed reforms are enacted, then let’s give the incumbents a chance at a third term.

The logic for my compromise proposal goes like this:

The current system of candidate slates and sample ballots provides nearly bullet-proof incumbent protection. As long as your fellow politicians like you well enough so that you appear on their slate and sample ballot, there is no realistic way an incumbent politician can lose an election. In this system of extreme incumbency protection, it would make absolutely no sense to tinker with the existing term limits for the County’s elected officials. Term limits are the only policy in place that provides an avenue for new candidates and fresh ideas to enter our political power structure. The added benefit is that, as elected county officials are out of office due to term limits, there is a good chance they start looking at opportunities to run for other elected, non-term-limited positions, such as seats in the Maryland Legislature. Such former office holders are likely to be well-qualified contenders, and they are more likely to be able to give a real challenge to a lackluster incumbent.

If we reduce the incumbency protection by getting rid of candidate slates and their sample ballot advertisements, I am inclined—in the spirit of compromise—to allow our county officials have a chance at a third term. But, in order for us to give such a gift to our incumbents, we do need something significant in return.

How an Elected BOE Seat Becomes an Appointed One

As a local activist, I have decent sources to find out what is going on behind the scenes in the Prince George’s County District 9 Board of Education race. I am sad to report that, as a result of our current election laws and the peculiar circumstances surrounding the race, the District 9 BOE seat is becoming an appointed seat.

This is how the unfortunate change unfolded:

  • In the 2013 legislative session, a law was passed that added several appointed members to the Prince George’s County Board of Education. In addition, the County Executive was given the power to appoint the replacement for any elected BOE member who resigns before his/her term expires.
  • In September 2013, District 9 BOE member Donna Hathaway-Beck resigned.
  • In December 2013, County Executive Rushern Baker appointed Sonya Williams to the District 9 BOE seat.
  • In the June 2014 primary election, the local incumbent politicians’ party loyalty dictates that they and their candidate slate endorse Baker’s appointee and include her on their “sample ballot.”
  • The candidate endorsed by the local slate cruises to an unavoidable victory in the June primary and November general election.

In all reality, the voters of District 9 will have no meaningful say in the election of our BOE member. The selection was made by one person, County Executive Baker. For all intents and purposes, the District 9 BOE seat is an appointed position at this time.

Important note: My take on this situation is in no way a criticism of the appointed District 9 BOE member, Sonya Williams. I know her, I like her, and as a PTA activist I work with her. In fact, I believe County Executive Baker made an excellent choice in appointing her to the BOE. My only beef is with the obvious shortcomings of our system of “elections.”  As I have stated before, I am not taking sides in the District 9 BOE primary.

Mere Endorsements or Super-Endorsements?

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.

Craig First Republican to Respond, Endorses My Priorities

A big hat tip to David Craig for being the first Republican gubernatorial candidate to respond to my questions. And not only did he respond, he agrees with my priorities! Craig’s responses are below (in red):

  1. If elected, will you actively work to outlaw candidate slates? – Yes
  2. If elected, will you actively work to outlaw “sample ballots” used by candidate slates as political advertisements? – Yes
  3. If elected, will you actively work to establish an independent, nonpartisan system for drawing legislative and congressional districts? – Yes

Now all I need is for the other Republican candidates to tell me where they stand on these issues.

 

Cindy Walsh Responds to Candidate Questions

Democrat Cindy Walsh was the third candidate to provide answers to my three questions. Her responses are below (in red):

  1. If elected, will you actively work to outlaw candidate slates? – Yes
  2. If elected, will you actively work to outlaw “sample ballots” used by candidate slates as political advertisements? – Yes
  3. If elected, will you actively work to establish an independent, nonpartisan system for drawing legislative and congressional districts? – Yes

In addition I will fight to make public financing for all candidates mandatory.

So, as of now I have three candidates who have had the guts to answer this citizen blogger’s three simple questions: Walsh, Shawn Quinn, and Heather Mizeur. I’m really hoping other candidates will follow these three and reveal their stances on the questions.

Libertarian Quinn Responds to Candidate Questions

Once the filing deadline passed and we knew all gubernatorial candidates, I contacted all candidates to request responses to my three questions. Libertarian candidate Shawn Quinn responded immediately, but I didn’t get around to posting his responses (in red) until now:

  1. If elected, will you actively work to outlaw candidate slates? – I would work to outlaw ALL endorsements of any candidate running for office in Maryland. I don’t have a problem with a party listing their candidates and what they are running for on a single publication.
  2. If elected, will you actively work to outlaw “sample ballots” used by candidate slates as political advertisements? – I would work to reduce the amount of money that can be spent on all campaigns in Maryland. Millions of dollars are wasted by the two party agenda in order to buy an election.  I think sample ballots should list all candidates running for office in the same font, boldness and type set. There should be nothing that draws attention to anyone’s name.
  3. If elected, will you actively work to establish an independent, nonpartisan system for drawing legislative and congressional districts? – Yes, and Yes and Yes again. Gerrymandering is the worst abuse a free election has. Again this is a system that the two party agenda uses to simply win at the cost of what’s best for our citizens.

Soviet Union Had Elections Too

I grew up in Finland. In my youth in the 70’s and early 80’s, the Soviet Union was still going strong—at least it seemed that way. As a small country with a long border with the communist behemoth, our media paid attention to what was happening to the east of us.

One of the more comical things I remember about the Soviet Union was the news about its elections. (You may be surprised to find out that the Soviets had elections, but it is definitely true.) The Communist Party apparatus carefully selected the candidates for the elections, and these candidates always got more than 99% of the vote. Even a young kid could figure out that these were not true competitive elections. But, they were called elections nevertheless, and there apparently was an illusion of voters choosing their political leaders.

Now, I am not going to tell you that the Maryland primary elections are as bad as those Soviet elections. But, the difference is not nearly as great as most Marylanders think. Especially when it comes to lower ballot races with small budgets, the impact of a well-funded incumbent slate and its “sample ballot” advertisement cannot be overemphasized. Yes, it is possible to beat a candidate endorsed by the slate of incumbents. But, the odds are stacked heavily in favor of the candidate who appears on that sample ballot. For every person who actually researches the candidates and makes an informed, independent choice in a lower ballot race, there are surely three or four people who will vote for the person on the sample ballot without doing any further research.

In our primaries we have an illusion of real elections. But, the sad truth is, it is the party insiders that make the choices for us. It is not exactly like the Soviets used to do it, but the parallels are too great for my taste.

Missed Special Election Could Have Been a Real Election

The fact that County Executive Baker took his time to appoint a new District 9 Board of Education member made me think that in those three months we could have had a special election to fill the seat. As I pondered this, I also came to realize that, under our current system of slates and sample ballots, having a special election to fill a vacancy on the BOE would likely provide voters with a rare chance to have a real election for such a lower ballot office. If there was a special election where there are no other races on the ballot, I would be very surprised if an incumbent slate dedicated significant financial resources to the race. Thus, a special election could provide us with a real election where all the candidates would compete on an even field and they would need to win on their own merits. Wouldn’t that be something special?

Of course, this is just a meaningless mental exercise since the County Executive and his buddies in the Maryland Legislature decided in their infinite wisdom that we should not bother with elections to fill openings on the BOE. Still, even the idea of a real election for a BOE seat got me pretty excited.