One aspect of this year's election that hasn't gotten much coverage, except in a bemused, "What were they thinking?"-kind of way, is the write-in campaign. Historically, it has been a means for voicing displeasure with the "approved" candidates in a particular race, or as a protest against the system as a whole, but has anyone ever won as a result of one? I am no election historian (and I'm sure there are plenty of you out there who are who could answer this), but I can't recall one.
In the past, I dismissed write-ins as attempts by the humour-challenged to bring levity to the electoral process; however, this year the failings of the write-in process were stark and personal.
Follow me for a not-too-technical explanation of what happened.
I live on Maryland's Eastern Shore, an area of watermen, poultry farmers and tourism. Ocean City is just an hour away, towns are separated by large tracts of farmland, and the Chesapeake Bay is just around the corner for most folks. Traditionally a conservative area, the whole is represented as CD-1 by Andy Harris, a Republican who defeated our Democrat Frank Kratovil in the 2010 mid-terms. He has been a disaster as a representative, but his failings in that are not what this diary is about. Suffice to say, we would like to see him replaced.
And this year we thought we had that opportunity. A three-way primary for a challenger culminated in April with the selection of Wendy Rosen by a very narrow margin. It got even closer: by the time all the absentee ballots were counted, her lead had dropped to 58 votes.
And so we prepared to go out and fight with Wendy to unseat Harris. Then came the "September surprise": Rosen had dropped out of the race for "personal reasons", which turned out be. . . ummm. . . well, see. . . she had committed VOTER FRAUD!
ASSOCIATED PRESS: In a letter to Maryland's attorney general and the state prosecutor, the chair of the Maryland Democratic Party wrote that Rosen has been registered to vote in both Florida and Maryland since at least 2006. Party chairwoman also said in the letter that Rosen voted in the 2006 general election and the 2008 presidential primaries in both Florida and Maryland....Zoinks, Shaggy! What do we do now?
"We believe that this is a clear violation of Maryland law and urge the appropriate office to conduct a full investigation...." The party demanded Rosen withdraw, Lewis said in a statement.
Her primary opponent, John LaFerla, responded within a few days that he would be willing to run against Harris. The Maryland Democratic Party endorsed him, but would be unable to submit his name for amending the ballot, as the deadline for candidates had passed. Which meant that he had a little over 6 weeks to run a write-in campaign against a heavily-favored Tea Party stalwart.
Unfortunately, it didn't work. There was no last minute miracle for LaFerla, no getting just enough write-ins to win as the movies would have us believe happens all the time, no dedicated campaign to promote the write-in, nothing.
Let me repeat that. N-O-T-H-I-N-G.
To my knowledge, the Maryland Democratic Party never promoted a write-in campaign, never sent flyers to registered Democrats to explain how to conduct a write-in initiative, or even to explain how the whole write-in process works. I never received a call from any Democratic organization or operative in support of a write-in campaign, and no grassroots effort was ever made, as far as I can tell. Now, I will admit that I am not heavily into the politicking scene, and that I may have missed some efforts if they were in fact going on. But that is the point I am making: how many registered voters missed out on guidance as to how to ensure one of our own was voted for?
Well, how about we look at the results and see?
Name Early Election Absentee/ Total PercentageWow.
Voting Day Provisional
Wendy Rosen (D) 14,705 70,763 4,075 89,543 27.2%
Andy Harris (R) 29,542 172,588 7,800 209,930 63.7%
Muir Wayne Boda (L) 1,799 10,140 583 12,522 3.8%
John LaFerla (D) 0 0 0 0 0.0%
Michael Calpino 0 0 0 0 0.0%
(Unaffiliated Write In)
Douglas Dryden Rae 0 0 0 0 0.0%
(Unaffiliated Write In)
N/A 5,827 10,770 940 17,537 5.3%
Rosen, who was not running, got over 14,000 votes, during the early voting period. And over 70, 000 votes on Election Day! Don't you think the state Democratic Party could have done something to educate their registered voters about the Rosen problem?
Ok, many of you will point out that even if all those had gone to LaFerla, he still wouldn't have beat Harris. And you are correct. But the problem here isn't that he couldn't win, it's that he wasn't allowed to be on the ballot. His primary opponent not only "screwed the pooch" with her alleged voter fraud, but she caused a disruption in the balloting process that couldn't be fixed.
And then there is the issue of how the write-in process is explained and conducted here in Maryland. A week or so before Election Day, my wife and I received our sample ballots. As we perused them, looking at the initiatives and discussing what we needed to research before the polls so we could make the best decisions, I noticed the instructions for write-in candidates. They were well-written, clear, and concise. They explicitly stated that one must enter the write-in's name as LAST NAME first, FIRST NAME last. However, at the polls, on the electronic machines, the instructions for this process made no mention of the LAST NAME FIRST NAME element. WTF, Sunshine? Which leads me to wonder, how many write-ins for LaFerla were thrown out because people didn't enter his name in the correct order? Or because they spelled it wrong?
FINAL THOUGHTS ON WRITE-INS
All things considered, I have a bad taste in my mouth about the whole Rosen/LaFerla/write-in issue. A candidate that drops out too late to change the ballot, another candidate who was hindered by a state political party, that same state party that failed to GOTV for its members here on the Shore, and the whole write-in process that is, in my mind, a cobbled-together sop for those who want to protest an election. Reforming the write-in process, with clear rules as to entering names and how those are counted, as well as increased efforts from the political parties at the state and local levels to ensure the voting public is educated about the process could go a long way to allowing more write-ins of a serious nature.