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.