Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Vote early and often

Election Day is a mere fortnight away, and early voting is already open in 25 states, and opens here in Maryland on Friday. So it's time for Mah Rabu's endorsements: in all partisan races, as usual, I endorse Democrats for everything. (Except in the Florida Senate race, where I endorse instant-runoff voting, which I also retroactively endorse for Florida 2000.) I can't say I'm thrilled with how the congressional Democrats have used (or, more precisely, not used) their once-in-a-generation supermajorities. Still, the Democrats are better than the Republicans on every single issue (we recently saw a unique exception when the Obama administration voluntarily appealed the decision in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States, but that's irrelevant to this election, since neither Obama nor the Log Cabin Republicans are on the ballot), and a Democratic Congress that does nothing at all (which is a close first-order approximation to the current Democratic Senate) would be vastly superior than a Republican Congress that does anything at all. Withholding your vote to "send a message" to the Democrats will accomplish nothing; a resounding defeat will be merely interpreted as proof that the Democrats have "overreached" and need to "move to the center". (Funny how everything seems to be interpreted that way.) And at the state level (in the 43 states with multiple congressional districts), this year's legislative and gubernatorial elections will have an impact on redistricting following the 2010 Census, and therefore on the makeup of state legislatures and the U.S. House for the next 10 years. So go vote!

So that's the partisan elections, but I also need to figure out how to vote in the nonpartisan elections and ballot questions here in Maryland and Montgomery County, so I'm posting the information I've gathered so far, and inviting input from readers.

Circuit Court (Circuit 6):
The Circuit Court is the higher of the two trial courts in Maryland, with jurisdiction over felonies and major civil cases. (The District Court handles misdemeanors and minor civil cases. As far as I can tell, they seem to be roughly parallel to the two levels of trial courts in my former state of residence, with the Circuit Court parallel to the New York "Supreme Court" (which, confusingly to everyone, is not the highest court in the state), and the District Court parallel to the NYC Civil Court and the NYC Criminal Court.) Judges are elected for a term of 15 years or until they reach age 70. However, when a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement who serves until the next biennial election. (Since 15 is an odd number, it seems to me that this means that this would happen almost all the time.) This year, 6 judicial positions are up for election in the 6th Circuit (which includes Montgomery and Frederick Counties). Six candidates are running for these six positions, and all 6 (Sharon Burrell, Cynthia Callahan, Richard Jordan, Cheryl McCally, Joseph Quirk, and Steven Salant) are incumbent judges. If I understand the system correctly, this means that 6 positions opened up in the 2 years since the last election, and all 6 judges appointed to fill those positions have chosen to run for full terms. Does anyone know anything about any of these judges? Given that this isn't a competitive election, in the absence of further information I think I'm going to sit this one out, as a protest against judicial elections. (I can't vote for myself, since Maryland judges have to have been Maryland residents for 5 years.)

Court of Appeals (Appellate Circuit 7):

As in New York, Maryland's highest state court is called the Court of Appeals (though Maryland doesn't have a lower court called the Supreme Court to confuse everyone). The Court of Appeals consists of 7 judges, one from each Appellate Circuit, and the 7th Appellate Circuit is just Montgomery County. Judges are appointed by the governor to a term of 10 years (or until age 70) and confirmed by the Senate, then are put before the voters at the first election thereafter for a retention vote. Judge Mary Ellen Barbera took office in September 2008, apparently too close to the 2008 election to get on the ballot that year. What do we know about her?

Court of Special Appeals (At Large):

The Court of Special Appeals is the intermediate state appellate court, and its judges are appointed by the same system as the Court of Appeals. There are 13 judges, one from each Appellate Circuit, and 6 at-large. Judges Peter Krauser (the Chief Judge, appointed in 2000 and up for a second term), Albert Matricciani, Jr. (appointed in 2008), and Alexander Wright, Jr. (appointed in 2008), all at-large, are up for retention this year. Thoughts?

Montgomery County Board of Education:

The Board of Education has at-large members as well as members representing districts, but all of them are elected at-large (except the student member, who is elected by students in the county's middle and high schools). They are elected to staggered 4-year terms, so half are elected every 2 years. The candidates already ran in a nonpartisan primary in September, and the top two candidates for each seat went on to the general election. The at-large candidates are Shirley Brandman* and Lisa Lloyd; in District 1, Judy Docca* and Mike Ibanez; in District 3, Patricia O'Neill* and Karen Smith; and in District 5, Mike Durso* and Martha Schaerr. (The incumbents have asterisks. Did they all win because they were first in the alphabet?) The teachers' union endorses all 4 incumbents, as does SEIU Local 500.

State Question 1:

The Maryland Constitution says that every 20 years (non-presidential election years ending in zero, so this is the year), there has to be a ballot question asking whether there should be a state constitutional convention, which can then propose constitutional amendments (or a new constitution) to be submitted to the voters for approval. There seem to be several websites advocating for such a convention, though not openly advocating for any particular constitutional amendments. In the absence of any specific proposed amendments that I'd like to see, I'm inclined to vote no. I'd be too worried that a convention would be dominated by crackpots and/or corporate money, and that we'd see California-style amendments that would abridge civil rights and/or make the state ungovernable. (I don't think Prop 8 would pass in Maryland, but I'd rather not find out; I didn't think it would pass in California either.)

State Question 2:

Most people know that the 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to trial by jury for any civil suit in which the amount in controversy exceeds $20. Since the $20 has not been adjusted for inflation, that's not so much in today's dollars, so a jury option is available for basically any civil trial. However, this only applies to federal cases. The corresponding amount in the Maryland Declaration of Rights is $10,000 instead of $20. The proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot would raise this amount to $15,000.

I'm not sure I have enough information to know how to vote on this. How common are civil trials where the amount in controversy is between $10k and $15k, and how often do the litigants exercise their right to a trial by jury? Is there a systematic difference in the outcomes of civil trials tried by judges and by juries? Is the reason for this proposed amendment to save money (because jury trials cost the state more), or to help corporations (because juries are more likely to rule in favor of the plaintiff), or something else?

State Question 3:

This proposed constitutional amendment would require that judges of the Orphans' Court in Baltimore City be members in good standing of the Maryland Bar. I think I'm going to abstain on principle; this seems to be a matter entirely internal to Baltimore City (with no impact on the state budget), so I don't see why it should be up to me.

UPDATE: An anonymous commenter raises a good point: in order to become law, the amendment must be passed by a majority of statewide voters AND a majority of Baltimore voters. Therefore, a yes vote is a vote to let Baltimore decide. So now I think I'm voting yes.

County Question A:

This law, charging an ambulance fee of around $400, was passed by the Montgomery County Council in May, then referred to the voters by petition. The ballot question asks "Shall the Act to require the collection of an emergency medical services transport (ambulance) fee from: (1) County residents to the extent of the resident's insurance coverage; and (2) non-County residents subject to a hardship waiver become law?" Again, I'm not sure I have enough information. The county claims that the fee is only charged to insurance companies and not directly to patients (and is waived for uninsured County residents), but how does this interact with copays, deductibles, etc.? Is it true that people don't have to pay anything? If it really is charged only to insurance companies, it seems harmless enough, but if not, it seems like a highly regressive tax, and there are better ways to make up the budget shortfall. It also seems to screw over non-residents (and there are many DC and PG County residents who work in MoCo and could have emergencies there). Thoughts?

UPDATE: Here's the actual law that is up for a vote. No amount is specified for the ambulance fee; it is to be set by the County Executive. It looks like the county indeed covers everything for county residents that isn't covered by insurance (including copays, deductibles, etc.), so residents indeed don't have to pay anything out of pocket. (And lifetime coverage limits are now illegal under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.) Non-residents are on the hook for whatever their insurance doesn't cover, but can request a waiver if their household income is less than 3 times the poverty line. (It's not clear how simple or complicated this process would be.) The ambulances are required to transport people regardless of their ability to pay. County Executive Leggett has proposed significant cuts to county programs in anticipation of the ambulance fee being voted down. I can't say I agree with his quick dismissal of the possibility of raising taxes, but whether I agree with it or not, that doesn't seem to be on the table right now, while the ambulance fee does. So to avoid all these cuts, from firefighters to road maintenance to mental health services, I'm now inclined to vote YES.


  1. I was glad to find this, so I'll share some research I found at http://www.stardem.com/article_619e3087-84d8-5b54-a836-5f2871e44533.html. It looks like the State Question 3 will have to be approved both statewide and the locals to make the change. So I'll be voting yes to allow the BC folks to decide.

  2. Anonymous-
    Excellent point. I have updated the post. So now I'm leaning toward voting no no yes yes on the four ballot questions.

  3. Really, all you need to be a judge is to be a md resident for 5 years? not sit the bar or anything?
    Hell, you can vote for me. I've lived here far more than five years (although actually now that I think of it, not sequentially up to now. But I did live here for 5 years prior to that. Hmm we could really snarl things up with trying to figure out whether I'm eligible or not. Could be fun...)

  4. Yeah, you also have to be a member of the bar (which I'm also not; are you?), sorry. Also, judges have to be "most distinguished for integrity, wisdom and sound legal knowledge."

  5. If question 1 passes, and the General Assembly proposes changes to the MD constitution, any changes must be approved by voters in a new ballot.

  6. "...as usual, I endorse Democrats for everything."

    How thoughtful and deliberative of you. I'm sure Lyndon Larouche appreciates your support.

  7. LaRouche is not now, and has never been, the Democratic nominee for anything. But if he were (at least for Congress, where the partisan composition of the chamber matters much more than any individual member), then yes, I would vote for him in the general election (though I would oppose him in the primary). I have explained this position previously in the post I linked to. You may agree or disagree, but it's more than the single sentence I devoted to it in this post.

  8. I wrote:
    Also, judges have to be "most distinguished for integrity, wisdom and sound legal knowledge."

    Sorry KRG, I didn't mean to suggest that you're not any of these things; this was just another reason I didn't vote for myself.

  9. Also glad I found this.
    As far as judge retention goes, krauser was previously the chair of the maryland Democratic party, and all 4 others were put in place just before the 2008 season. So I'd say that they were either midnight appointments or were part of the dem wave of the time. However, I don't know as information is scarce, and I was not on the political scene 2 years ago, (2 months after the absolute age limit).
    I've also heard that omally has wanted that convention for some /winkwinknudgenudgesaynomore california amendments, (not prop 8-esque). I was going to vote no,(same reasons you specified), but reconsidered since the democratic gov'nor was going for it. That and any changes are voted on by ballot.

    Besides that, if the choice was between lyndon larouche and a republican, I would abstain.

    Now, I'll see about voting good sirs.

  10. Which California amendments do you mean?

  11. It's not 2006 anymore. Then, there was an excuse for being naive.

    But now it's two years into the Obama administration. And what do we have with one-party rule?:

    - Renewed effort in war. TRIPLE the number of troops in Afghanistan. Not $300 billion in costs anymore (as in your 2006 post), but over a trillion.

    - Continued administration support for secrecy and executive privilege.

    - Continued support for warrantless wiretapping and spying on innocents.

    - Continued use of signing statements.

    - More deportations of immigrants (criminal and non-criminal) than ever before.

    - Continued welfare for auto companies, for banks, for unions.

    And the more that people stand up and pledge blind allegiance to the Party, the less likelihood that these things will ever change.

  12. All the more reason to run better candidates in Democratic primaries. But getting Republicans elected isn't going to help any of those issues, and isn't going to send a message to the Democrats (not the right message, anyway).

  13. @gahd
    Hmm, I find it strange that you claim to be above naivete.
    You claim that those are results of one-party rule in a way so as to allocate blame on the democratic party. Frankly to link partisanship to democrats is nearsighted, when the entire political strategy of republicans,(though they may not be the ones you would advocate, they are the only VIABLE alternative), is to deliberately block, hinder, and choke the government in order to make the democrats look bad, which apparently worked.

    As for your issues, they may be true but these really aren't the hot-button issues.

    - This is one point where I disagree with you. We have exited iraq almost entirely, and plans are to leave Afghanistan next year. The trillion is the total spent, (http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/2010-05-12-afghan_N.htm), and while the costs for Afghanistan are ramping up, those for iraq are dropping off a cliff and one would expect the same for Afghanistan.
    And the underlying point is,

    - Of course it is still supported, and while he did pledge a lot in this department, the truth is that it is much more open than previous administrations.

    - I agree here and have contacted congressmen about this.

    - While the obvious retort is that someone must stop eventually if we want to stop the practice, so long as republicans are being so damn bullheaded I'm not going to go out of my way to attack democratic signing statements.

    - So what is going on is that more effort is spent on deporting criminal immigrants, (note, not illegal immigrants, but immigrants that have committed crimes). I do not see how this is a very important issue, or at least why it is one of the issues you mentioned. I can see why one would want to deport criminal immigrants as they are a drain on our tax dollars, and there is no reason we should house them here. While I can also see how this could cause humanitarian distaste, (minor crimes cause split families), I very much doubt that a candidate standing up for criminal immigrant's humanitarian rights would do very well at all, in either party.

    -Lastly, I find it strange that you list unions amidst auto-companies and banks.
    Or even auto-companies with banks.
    Unions can be an issue in down economic times, but to actively campaign against them is very much frowned upon.
    Auto-companies were not responsible for the economic crash and honestly I don't mind helping them, as they are American industry and employ union workers.
    I very much disliked bailing the banks out, but frankly we were on the verge of having ATMs disregard cards from other banks. The economy would have literally melted if we hadn't paid the ransom. I vote democratic because they work towards preventing ransoms, not protecting the interests of the kidnappers as republicans do.
    Skepticism and independence is good, but cynicism isn't. That or I doubt you have been, recently or ever, a democrat. Operative being recently.

  14. Oh, and mainly the hearsay I'm going on concerns Cannabis. Since he (omalley) endorses the convention as much as he seems, I have a feeling there are other issues to be addressed. And again, all changes must be passed up for a vote, so I think I'll take the chance on the convention; maryland is a democratic state, and since we have a precedent for horrendous ammendment blunders, (california being ungovernable as you mentioned), I don't think anything terrible would happen.

  15. Why would legalizing/regulating cannabis require a constitutional amendment? The current constitution doesn't prohibit it. California's Prop 19 (on the ballot today) isn't a constitutional amendment, but just a ballot initiative.

  16. Anonymous: We have not "exited" Iraq, no matter what the press releases tell you. There are 50,000 American troops in Iraq today, and for the long term.

    As far as your contention that this is better than anything we would have gotten from Republicans -- you may be right. Depends on which Republicans, I suppose.

    But my point was that it's far worse than anything we expected from the Democrats. And one reason they are performing so low is because of the extraordinary partisanship of people who aver: My party right or wrong.

    I agree with you that skepticism and independence are good. Conversely, supporting politicians indiscriminately (Lyndon LaRouche!) because of their party affiliation is foolish and harmful to the country.

  17. As far as your contention that this is better than anything we would have gotten from Republicans -- you may be right. Depends on which Republicans, I suppose.

    The Republicans currently in office and running for office. Not Abraham Lincoln or Fiorello LaGuardia.

    But my point was that it's far worse than anything we expected from the Democrats. And one reason they are performing so low is because of the extraordinary partisanship of people who aver: My party right or wrong.

    It's not about "right or wrong": elections aren't a yes/no choice. Elections are a choice among several options, and until we have instant-runoff voting (speedily and in our days) they're a choice between two options. So it's about which of the two major parties is less wrong, and that continues to be the Democrats.

    But to test your claim that more would be accomplished if progressive voters were willing not to vote Democratic in general elections, we can just look at recent history. In 2000, nearly 3 million Americans (including 97,000 Floridians) thought as you do (assuming you actually hold these views and aren't a Republican troll) and voted for Ralph Nader. (Indeed, even I was sympathetic to this perspective to some degree, and only voted for Gore because I had imprinted on the 1988 election and still thought of Illinois as a swing state, and didn't want to take a risk.) What did they accomplish?

    I agree with you that skepticism and independence are good. Conversely, supporting politicians indiscriminately (Lyndon LaRouche!) because of their party affiliation is foolish and harmful to the country.

    Lyndon LaRouche isn't the Democratic nominee for anything. But there are plenty of noxious individuals who are, so you can use them instead to make your point.

    There are many other ways to exert pressure on the Democratic incumbents in office. Support primary challengers against them. Reserve financial support and volunteer labor for individual Democratic candidates who share your values, not for party committees. But on Election Day, hold your nose and vote for the lesser of two evils. Anything else may feel good but is irresponsible.

  18. I've never found a Democrat that I completely agree with, nor a Republican that I completely agree with. Frankly, I don't see that much difference between them (as I've already outlined the congruities between the Bush administration and the Obama administration).

    Given any individual candidate, there are positions I'll agree with and others I'll strongly disagree with. But I can't understand someone who says I'll support Arlen Specter's opponent --until Specter (or Ronald Reagan or Strom Thurmond or Parker Griffith) changes his party registration. As if that made any difference in their policy positions.