Maryland 2014 Election Lessons, Part 2. Early and Absentee Voting

More Democrats in Maryland turned out in early voting than Republicans. I believe the early vote proves the superiority of the Democratic “ground game” in Maryland. Especially in close contests, Democratic candidates make a real effort to identify supporters and urge them to vote early or vote absentee. Think of it as “vote banking.” 

In Maryland’s headline event, the Brown/Ulman ticket was leading statewide, 164,219 to 136,781 for Hogan/Rutherford at the close of early voting. But of course Larry Hogan won with a superior turnout on Election Day.

Perhaps more surprising, Anthony Brown also led Hogan in the absentee/provisional ballot tally, 19,715 to 19,250. That statewide edge of 465 absentee ballots seems small, but I think it’s quite significant. Your best source for all the Maryland General Election results is the Maryland State Board of Elections web site.

Republicans do a lot more traveling, for both business and pleasure, than Democrats. Therefore, in many locales the absentee ballots often break for Republicans.

However, in recent years Maryland has adopted a “no-excuse required” policy for absentee ballots. You don’t have to be traveling to be eligible for an absentee ballot. Any registered voter can request one. In some places, candidates or parties actively encourage supporters to vote absentee. It avoids any Election Day events that might prevent a voter from voting. Many people also feel more confident that their vote is being counted accurately when they vote absentee.

Long story short, more people are voting absentee than ever before. In my experience talking with voters, it’s especially common for elderly people to vote absentee, because they don’t want to risk going to the polling place in bad weather on Election Day. Of course folks who have limited mobility, whether old or young, often vote by mail. People with very hectic work/commuting/childcare schedules often prefer to vote by mail. The absentee ballot should now be called the “convenient, early, mail-in ballot.”

(Note: The Maryland Board of Elections reports the absentee and provisional ballot count as one number, so it’s impossible to know how many of the votes came from absentee ballots or provisionals. However, I believe it’s mostly absentee ballots.)

The Democratic lead in early voting and absentee ballots is even more pronounced in some of the close legislative races.

For example, Del. Norm Conway, a Democrat with deep support in District 38B (Salisbury), got his people to the polls in early voting 1,244-1,086. Conway also won the absentee vote, 198-133. Unfortunately, Republican Carl Anderson outpolled Conway 4,309-3,584 on the one day that matters most, Election Day. Adding the early vote, Election Day vote, and absentee vote resulted in a total giving  Anderson the win, 5,529-5,028.

Another example: In hotly contested District 38 on the Lower Eastern Shore, Sen. Jim Mathias sweated out the absentee vote to win by a narrow margin in 2010.

This year, Mathias carried the early vote, 3,846-3,426. Mathias also defeated Republican Mike McDermott on Election Day, 15,287-14,479.

So Mathias was leading by more than a thousand votes on the night of Nov. 4. At least one Eastern Shore news outlet mistakenly reported that the race could not be called until the absentee ballots were counted. Nonsense.

I called the District 38 Senate race in favor of Mathias on Nov. 3.  When Mathias came out on top Election day, I had no doubt that he had also banked sufficient absentee ballots to survive any recount.

An even more interesting example in a close race: Rep. John Delaney, the Democrat, lost on Election Day to Republican Dan Bongino by about 500 votes. The media briefly thought  Bongino was the winner. (Congressional District 6, Western Maryland and Montgomery County.)

Surprise! Delaney had defeated Bongino in early voting by a larger margin, 12,996-9,306. To complete the victory, Delaney also edged Bongino in the absentee ballots, 2,768-2,723.

What did the Mathias, Conway, and Delaney campaigns have in common? All three had access to more than adequate campaign financing, and they had excellent paid and volunteer organizations. The superior ground game was enough to win for Mathias and Delaney, but not quite for Conway. You can’t win ’em all.

Wrapping up this session of inside baseball, one final observation. Gerrymandering does not guarantee success.

The Martin O’Malley districting plan to win seven of eight Congressional seats for Democrats nearly backfired for Delaney in District 6.

In District 38, O’Malley’s legislative districting map may have added a few Democrats to vote for Mathias. But Democrats decided to divide District 38 into three single-member subdistricts for House of Delegates. It appeared that the new map would give Democrats a fighting chance to win two of the three seats, 38A and 38B. Subdistrict 38C was sacrificed to Republicans in redistricting.

I’m afraid the District 38 subdistricts were miscalculated. Republicans won all three delegate seats, even as Mathias held the Senate seat. Because of Conway’s name recognition, I believe he would have retained his seat if three Democratic candidates and three Republicans competed on the ballot district-wide.

Vote totals in my rearview mirror may be larger or smaller than they appear.

— John Hayden

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