Groups Produce “Sample Ballots” Not Authorized by Democratic Party

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

Many Prince George’s County residents have received a mailer that contains what appears to be an official sample ballot for the Democratic party. Words in large letters across the top read, “2016 Democratic Sample Ballot; Take this with you when you vote.” The mailer even bears the Democratic logo: a red and blue donkey with white stars.

Predictably, voters are instructed to support the Democratic candidates for president, U.S. senator, and congressional representative. But voters are also told to vote for a particular slate of judicial candidates, as well as candidates for the Board of Education. This is highly misleading. School board elections and judicial elections are nonpartisan; candidates do not run as representatives of a political party.

Moreover, this sample ballot is not actually produced or authorized by the Democratic party. According to the fine print in the bottom left corner, the mailer is authorized by two committees: the Committee to Elect the Sitting Judge, a nonpartisan group advocating for election of the sitting judges of the Prince George’s County Circuit Court, and the Committee for ReCharge At-Large, a pro-Question-D group that supports adding two at-large candidates to the County Council.

2016-democratic-sample-ballot-1-1

In previous election years, the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee has voted to endorse a slate of candidates for the Board of Education. This year, however, the Committee voted against endorsing school board candidates. The Committee also decided not to endorse a position on Question D, which would add two at-large seats to the County Council. But the mailer tells Prince George’s County residents to vote “yes” on Question D, suggesting that the Democratic party officially supports the proposal.

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Democratic Central Committee Decides Not to Endorse BOE Candidates

By Tommi Makila

At a rather contentious and chaotic meeting on September 20, 2016, the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee voted against making endorsements in the general election races for the Board of Education (BOE).

At the previous Central Committee meeting—held on July 19, 2016—the school board endorsements had been on the agenda. The Committee had voted on the Democratic “sample ballot” as a whole, including candidates for congressional and BOE races as well as ballot questions. At the July meeting, sixteen Central Committee members voted for the sample ballot and eleven voted against it. Apparently Central Committee members had left the July meeting thinking that the sample ballot, including the BOE endorsements, had been approved. However, someone realized only after the meeting that the sample ballot approval required a two-thirds majority. Thus, it was determined that the vote on the sample ballot had failed.

At the September 20 meeting of the Central Committee, a motion was made to reconsider the July 19 vote on the sample ballot. The motion to reconsider failed. After this, two new motions related to sample ballots were made, but the Committee Chair ruled the motions out of order.

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Party Politics, Exhibit A: Sample Ballots

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

2016 sample ballot mailer2

Last week, I eagerly listened to a segment on Kojo Nnamdi’s WAMU radio show that addressed our politicized school board elections. David Cahn, Co-Chair of Citizens for an Elected Board, and Cheryl Landis, District 5 Board of Education Candidate and Chair of the Democratic Central Committee for Prince George’s County were guests on the show.

At one point, Mr. Nnamdi seemed to understate—or even misstate—the concern that so many of us have about partisan meddling in our school board elections. Speaking to Cheryl Landis, Mr. Nnamdi said, “Mr. Cahn and presumably others are concerned that you make it clear in some of your campaigning that you are a Democrat.”

If Mr. Nnamdi thinks that simply stating one’s party affiliation sums up the problem with partisan campaigns for school board, he is sadly missing the point.

Among the campaign literature for April’s primary election was a mailer sent to District 5 residents touting County Executive Baker’s endorsed candidates. Note the “sample ballot” on page 2 (pictured above), with the banner at the top reading, “2016 Democratic Primary Sample Ballot, Take this with you when you vote.” Names of the preferred candidates are highlighted; names of the other candidates are printed so lightly that only those with sharp eyesight can read them.

When a school board candidate is presented on a sample ballot as the preferred choice (or, in this case, the only choice) of party leaders, it is nearly impossible for any other candidate to prevail. This is the kind of partisan meddling that has led many county residents to conclude that party leaders are stacking the board with hand-selected members, members who owe them their loyalty.