A rare bright spot in this rough election experience: Question A in Howard County passes with a solid majority, bringing limited public financing to local elections and fending off the effects of big outside money. Here's the kind of work it took to bring HoCo voters up to speed on the ballot question.
/By Patty Snee/PM BlogSpace Report/ Voters across Howard County were greeted by enthusiastic poll workers asking for a Yes Vote on Question A! on Election Day. The groups who make up Fair Elections Howard County also recruited their members and supporters to cover polling places during the critical early voting period.
It made a difference. According to members of the voter engagement team it appears that the voting precincts where workers were on hand to explain and provide literature about the limited public election financing proposal were more likely to vote “Yes” than at uncovered precincts. The effort reaffirmed the value of organizing a good ground game at the polls.
The ballot question, for which voter information was crucial, was explained by the Baltimore Sun this way: “Part of a nationwide push to purge big money from politics, the charter change would allow the county council to create a system that allows candidates who raise enough small donations and shun large contributions to get matching funds from a county fund. Proponents say the system will be a game-changer for local elections by boosting the power of small, individual donations and limiting the influence of special interests.”
The win in Howard County on Question A was a rare bright spot in what turned out to be a dismal presidential election, even in deep-Blue Maryland. Jordan Baucum Colbert, Lead Organizer for Fair Elections Howard County, said "The win speaks volumes, and is proof that Howard County residents are ready to build a democracy where candidates can run for office on their ideas and on issues that matter most to constituents. Howard County residents chose to make their mark in history this election cycle, saying that they don't want big money to determine who wins the race."
The campaign, with help from the grassroots canvassing network Base Builder, fielded a full time team of 25 people to work at 11 strategically important precincts in 10 locations on Tuesday, Nov. 8. People were deployed to locations in Clarksville, Columbia, Elkridge, and Laurel and worked from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. Volunteers also pitched in with 2-hour shifts throughout the day at other locations. Progressive Maryland's Larry Stafford and Jordan Baucum Colbert were poll captains on Election Day.
The team greeted voters and talked to them about the merits of a Yes vote. The goals was to give all voters a palm card, answer questions and encourage their support. The "pitch" to folks emphasized the wide cross section of groups who endorsed as well as the endorsements from the Sun and Post, all displayed on the lit. The endorsements impressed people and the tag lines "get big money out of our elections" and "make it easier for average community folks to run for local office" seemed to resonate. The experienced members of this EDay team were struck by the large number of people who stopped to talk. The red T-shirts and signs helped provide the Yes side with additional visibility and credibility.
This voter contact program achieved positive results in the targeted precincts. Question A received a 56% “yes” rate at those locations, which is 4% higher than the overall 52% total county wide. In addition, Question A prevailed in 8 of the 11 highly targeted precincts, winning very significantly in 3 of the precincts with 63%, 64%, and 68% respectively. Overall, there were 6,295 FOR votes cast at our polling sites vs. 4,973 AGAINST votes cast. We came away feeling that we had a clear impact on the decision of hundreds of voters.
All in all, it was a very effective Election Day strategy. Progressive Maryland would like to give a shout out to its great volunteers and to Base Builder for recruiting and managing the 25 people who came ready to give it their all on Election Day. PM and BB have teamed on successful electoral efforts in the past.
Local elections previously have been typified by large outside donations, the Sun explained: “Less than one-third of donations for all local races in 2010 and 2014 came from Howard County residents. The rest came from individuals outside the county or groups like unions and PACs, according to an analysis by Fair Elections Howard, a committee led by a coalition of groups like Common Cause Maryland, Progressive Maryland and Maryland PIRG.”
Given that and knowing that our election system is awash in big money, everyone involved is excited to have a victory in the fight for more democratic, clean and fair elections.
Patty Snee is a Progressive Maryland activist.
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