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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Obviously I was Wrong about Romney

There have been multiple postmortems on the Romney campaign and all reveal significant flaws. The campaign had virtually no get out the vote machine, they became over confident about their position in key swing states and they spent a lot of precious time in PA instead of VA, FL, OH or CO. It was a lower turnout election with Romney receiving fewer votes than McCain in 2008 and the President winning far fewer votes than he did in 2008. And then there was Hurricane Sandy.


If you look to the Real Clear Politics polling data for the two/three weeks prior to the hurricane Romney had established a consistent lead. But more important than the Romney lead, the President had a poll ceiling of 47% and most polls had him at 45, 46 or 47% - this is deadly for an incumbent. Then Sandy hit and the numbers shifted quite clearly in the President's favor. His 46 and 47% poll numbers jumped to 49 and 50%. His approval rating increased as well. It certainly gave him a boost on election day.  Of course any discussion of the hurricane impacting the race is immediately dismissed by the Left as they try to magnify the significance of what was a rather poor 50%-48% re-election margin for the President. And the Right is trying to avoid facing the facts that they are losing racial and ethnic minority voters and are too reliant on the votes of a shrinking white electorate. I don't much care what the Left or the Right have to say - but to deny that Sandy had a positive impact on Obama's bid and a negative impact on Romney is to deny common sense. Much as would any attempt to deny the Romney campaign's serious failings.

A review of pollster accuracy by Nate Silver reveals something pretty amazing - nearly every pollster overstated GOP strength. This is an historic anomaly, polls tend to understate GOP strength. The systemic bias in favor of the GOP suggests just how impressive the Obama campaign's turn-out machine was. Turn-out overall was done by several million voters, but based on exit polls youth, African-American, and Hispanic voters turned-out at the same numbers as they did in 2008 (the Hispanic numbers were actually up a bit), but they accounted for a greater share of the electorate because so many white voters simply failed to show up. The GOP needs white voters to win and when millions stay home, the GOP loses (Of course, if the GOP had not succeeded in turning away Hispanic voters in recent years then all of those white voters would not have mattered. Had Romney won the same share of Hispanics as McCain in 2008 he would have likely eked out a win. Had he received the same share as Bush in 2004 he would have won comfortably.).


On election day the Obama folks found and turned-out their voters and the GOP did not. There have been reports the Romney campaign's turn-out program - code named Orca - was based on a proprietary software program designed to identify likely GOP voters who not yet voted. The program was top secret and in an effort to keep it that way the Romney folks barely tested it and did minimal training. Worse, it crashed on election day. So field workers, ready to turn-out voters, were left twisting in the wind as their voters stayed home. It was a colossal failure. In a lower turn-out election, the team with the better ground game will win, and in this case they did.

As with any election, winners win and losers lose for a multitude of reasons. Blaming any one reasons is pretty much folly. The losers will look to find any excuses so as to avoid a painful period of self-reflection. The winners will look to ignore any factors that serve to diminish the significance of their victory. As New Republic's Timothy Noah recently wrote there appears to be no clear reason for Obama's win or Romney's loss. Exit polls reveal no clear endorsement of Obama's agenda or a rejection of Romney's. Rather the election results point to a status quo election in which the voters sent to no clear message to anyone. Regardless of the voters' lack of a message, the loss makes quite clear which side is better able to win when no national wave is carrying either party to the finish.

Perhaps ABC's Political Director Amy Walter wrote it best: "In 2006, 2008 and 2010 voters punished the party it saw as too consumed with its own agenda and unfocused on the concerns of average Americans. But each "wave election" only served to convince the winning party that they had a mandate for their ideological agenda. Ironically, it took a "status quo" election to finally convince the two sides to hear what voters have been telling them along: stop the posturing and work together to get something done to fix the many problems this country is facing."

We can only hope she is correct.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

If Early Voting Numbers are Correct, Obama is a Goner

And it's a big "IF", But here are Gallup’s stats from October 28, 2008: Obama led in early voting by 15 points (55/40).  His election day edge was just three points.  He ended up winning by seven points.  One more note.  According to Gallup, by 10/28/08, the percentage of Americans who said they’d already voted or planned to vote early was 33 percent.  Four years later, that number sits at…33 percent.







Today, Romney currently leads Obama 52% to 45% among voters who say they have already cast their ballots. However, that is comparable to Romney's 51% to 46% lead among all likely voters in Gallup's Oct. 22-28 tracking polling. At the same time, the race is tied at 49% among those who have not yet voted but still intend to vote early, suggesting these voters could cause the race to tighten. However, Romney leads 51% to 45% among the much larger group of voters who plan to vote on Election Day, Nov. 6.

If these numbers are even close to accurate - and Gallup's presidential track record is solid - then Romney will take the national popular vote by roughly 4% - and with it an electoral college majority.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Get Ready for a Crazy 7 Days, and Perhaps Beyond!

I keep saying that 2012 looks like 2004 and that advantages Romney, but there is an important caveat. In 2004 Bush narrowly won OH and narrowly lost many states such as WI and PA. This time around we are seeing similar trends with Romney and Obama close in otherwise Democratic states such as WI, MN, MI and PA. The few polls that have come from solid Democratic states like NJ and CA show Obama with much smaller leads than in 2008 while Romney is well ahead in truly red states.

This does set the stage for that rare event - a split between the electoral college and the popular vote. Though I have no faith in Nate Silvers so-called "election models" I agree with him in one area - Obama has a better chance of winning the electoral college than he does of winning the popular vote (and the electoral college is all that matters - I say that because it's obvious and because I support the electoral college). So it's possible Romney will win the popular vote by 1 or 2% and lose the election by losing OH. In that light, it is possible to see the closing week actions by the president in a different light.

Obama may be expending campaign resources in states like PA and MN because he wants to boost his popular vote numbers, but also because he fears that he may win OH and then lose the race because a state like PA or MN slips away from him.

Now, am I hedging my bets? No, not really. I predicted a Romney win because I believe the fundamentals point to his win. But even with those fundamentals it is not a certainty. Rather than a 50/50 chance Romney wins I see a 55/45 chance. That's hardly overwhelming and I am fully prepared to be wrong - but in the end I've made a prediction based on campaign activity, choices regarding ad buys and campaign stops, on polling numbers among key voting blocs (women and independents), and actual early voting data (not polling data). I do not believe that an election can be predicted the way one might predict a batting average.

Much evidence will come in the next 7 days - that Romney is planning an even in MN and that Biden is going to PA are telling and suggest a race breaking toward Romney. GOP early voting numbers are up in nearly every battleground state and Republican enthusiasm remains higher. But if there is a late break for Obama or for Romney there should be some clear indication by Friday... I know I'll be obsessed with every twist and turn between now and next Tuesday.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

No, Robo-Polls and Landline Only Polls are not Inaccurate

With the race for the White House so close it seems that whichever side is down in the polls seeks some way to dismiss polling accuracy. At present it is Team Obama that is trying mightily to convince folks that the polls are misleading and their typical line of attack either focuses on so-called Robo-Polls where the survey is conducted via computer instead of a live operator or the lack of cell phone only households in a survey sample. Robo-Polls are not permitted to dial cell phone numbers and the argument is this exclusion of cell phone only households introduces a bias to the detriment of the President.

Unfortunately, there's no support for the anti-Robo-Call or cell phone exclusion argument. A paper written for the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) by an ad hoc committee formed to study polling accuracy found no problems with automated polls. They addressed both the cell phone issue and the "robo-poll" question and found: "The exclusion of cell phone only (CPO) individuals from the samples did not seem to have an effect" and "The use of either computerized telephone interviewing (CATI) techniques or interactive voice response (IVR) techniques made no difference to the accuracy of estimates."

Mark Blumenthal, the polling guru from Pollster.com has written often on the issue of robo-polls and concludes there is no evidence they are are any more or less accurate than live operator polls: "automated telephone surveys did at least as well as those from conventional live-interviewer surveys in predicting election outcomes."

Then there's the Pew Foundation, in a study they conducted in 2009 they determined "pre-election polls conducted by telephone did very well in forecasting the outcome of the election in 2008. This was true for polls using live interviewers and those conducted with recorded voices. It was true for those based only on landline interviews and those that included cell phones."

So there you have it - there is simply no evidence to support the argument that robo-polls and the exclusion of cell phone only households introduces any bias into polling results.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

All Signs Point to a Romney Win

Update: Obviously I was wrong.

The election is a mere two weeks away and I've decided to step away from the twitterverse and provide a more detailed write-up on the state if the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Anyone who has read my tweets on the campaign will not be surprised when I say that I believe that Romney currently has the momentum and I consider him to be the favorite to win on Election Day. I argue the current electoral college map, national polls, support levels among women and Independents, and the results of the debates all point to a Romney win. I'll consider each in turn.

The Electoral College
There can be no question but that Romney has made significant gain in the battle for 270 electoral votes in the past 3 weeks. Romney has a solid hold on every state John McCain won in 2008 and has reclaimed two Obama states - Indiana and North Carolina. But that tells only part of the story. Florida and Virginia have also moved significantly toward Romney and if you look at the top ten advertising market ad buys Virgina is nowhere to be found and Florida is at the bottom of the list. Democratic operative and CNN contributor Paul Begala told CNN just yesterday that Florida has been lost to Romney. That Virginia is not even in the top ten speaks to the reality of race in that state. Add to that the fact that the scuttlebutt is that Obama for America has ceased polling in Virginia and team Obama may have pulled upwards of half of their staff out of the state to be used elsewhere.

With Florida and Virginia in the Romney column I see a current electoral map with 237 electoral votes for Obama and 248 for Romney. Six states remain as toss-ups - Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, and New Hampshire.

Among those six states, Colorado has been trending to Romney and Nevada has been trending to Obama - that would create 243 votes for Obama and 257 for Romney. There has been much talk of everything coming down to Ohio, but that is now only true for Obama. In the map I'm seeing, Obama must win Ohio to win, but he'd only have 267 electoral votes and would need New Hampshire, Iowa, or Wisconsin to cross the victory line.  Romney can hit 270+ by winning Wisconsin and New Hampshire or Wisconsin an Iowa. Romney doesn't need Ohio, but if he does win it, he wins it all. And the trend in Ohio is toward Romney. Since the first debate Obama's average lead in OH has fallen from 5% to below 2% and multiple polls show Obama receiving 47% support or below - that's a dangerously low level of support for an incumbent. If one looks to the last 5 presidential elections, in 4 of the 5, late deciders broke strongly for the challenger. In Ohio specifically, late deciders broke for John Kerry by a 22 point margin in 2004. Kerry still lost, but a key difference between George W. Bush and Barack Obama is the fact that Bush was closer to the 50% mark already and there were fewer undecided voters in 2004.

But the electoral story goes deeper. Recent polling data and campaign actions suggest that once safe Obama states may now be in play - Pennsylvania and Minnesota. Paul Ryan attended a rally in Pittsburgh last weekend and in Minnesota the Obama campaign has made an ad buy. Worse, I'm hearing rumblings today that one of two campaigns is conducting polls in Oregon. Obama won all three states by comfortable margins in 2008. Romney is unlikely to win any of the three, but the simple fact that they are in play demonstrate how Obama's fortunes have changed. I see an end result that puts Romney at 285 electoral votes as a minimum.

The National Polls
The national polls provide the best evidence of Romney's momentum. Prior to the first debate on October 3rd, Obama held a clear advantage.


The table above, from Realclearpolitics.com makes clear the strength of Obama's position just before the first debate. Obama was ahead by an average of 3 to 4 points and more important he was regularly hitting 49% and 50% in the polls.

Then came the debate....




Obama's advantage was gone and worse his 49% and 50% marks were now accompanied by 45% and 46% levels of support - deadly for any incumbent.  Some on the American Left have tried to argue that Romney gained temporary momentum after the first debate and that momentum stalled after the 2nd debate - that is clearly wishful thinking.

 

Romney is in a better position today than after the first debate. Romney is hitting the 49%, 50% and 51% mark and appears to be establishing a lead. The one poll that offered Obama hope was the IBD/TIPP tracking poll that had Obama with a 6 point lead on Sunday, but within two days the lead fell to 2% suggesting the lead was just the result of a bad day of polling. Obama is regularly receiving support in the 45%-47% range and it's hard to see how he climbs back to 50.1%. 

Support Among Key Voting Blocs
When you take a glance deeper inside the polls you see greater trouble signs for Obama. Obama is counting on a large gender gap to win him a second term - namely he hopes to win women by a large margin. That was the basis for the "war against women" meme and the constant talk of contraception access. But the approach isn't working. The Monmouth/SurveyUSA survey shows what has been a common element most national polls - Obama is not winning women by a margin sufficient to win. Romney has a double digit lead among men, but Obama has only a mid single digit lead among women. Team Obama has failed to recognize that women are more concerned with the economy than any other issue. The focus on "gender issues" came at the expense of presenting a plan for improving the economy in his second term.

Independent voters are the other key group. Obama won Independents by 7-8 percentage points in 2008, yet in most national polls and in most swing states - including Ohio - Romney has a clear advantage among Independent voters - usually in the 5-7% range. Absent the gender gap and the support of Independent voters, Obama would need Democratic turn-out to match or exceed 2008 levels. But 2008 was an election marked by tremendous enthusiasm among Democrats and the party's 7 percentage point turn-out advantage likely was a high water mark that will not be repeated. If the party's turn-out advantage winds up at the 4% range (the average of 2004 and 2008) Obama will fall short of victory.

The Debates
The prior paragraphs make clear the gains Romney made from the first debate, but his gains continued through the 2nd and 3rd - debates he "lost." After the 2nd debate, a CNN poll of viewers found Obama scored a narrow victory, but on the most important question - who would be the better leader on the economy - Romney won 58%-40%. After the final debate on foreign policy, many of Obama's supporters were convinced of the president's clear victory. But CNN again found viewers gave the president a narrow win and on the only question that mattered - is the candidate ready to be commander-in-chief - Obama and Romney tied. A different poll of  viewers by PPP (a Democratic firm) asked if the debate made viewers more or less likely to support a candidate. Among Independent voters, 32% said they were more likely to vote for the President and 48% answered less likely. For Romney, the numbers were reversed, 47% more likely and 35% less likely. 

The debates also allowed Romney to undo the negative effects of $100 million in swing state advertising by the Obama campaign to define him as an unacceptable candidate. Going into the fall Obama enjoyed a tremendous favorability advantage over Romney. Romney was considered to be one of the least liked candidates ever. As of today, Romney enjoys a 6% advantage over Obama on favorability! It marks a stunning turnaround.

Summary
For all of the reasons discussed above, and many more, I see a race that has shifted dramatically in Romney's favor and at present I consider him the most likely victor. Obama's Intrade advantage has collapsed and one of his biggest supporters, Nate Silver of the 538blog, has begun to hedge his bets and discuss the limits of his probability models (which are actually variants of the rather commonplace Monte Carlo method). If you follow Silver religiously you should really move on, because he's not doing anything special and the modifications he's made to the Monte Carlo model all favor Obama - for instance he tends to add greater weight to polls favorable to the President and will even weigh such polls more heavily when they are older and clearly contradicted by newer surveys. Those who follow the futures markets have seen in the past 24 hours how quickly they can change.

All indications are that the results of the election will be close, and it may well come down to a single state that makes the difference, but right now Romney is the candidate with the momentum and the likely victor. I will add, however, that there is the possibility - if national polls are truly capturing the dynamics of the race - that Romney will win by a more comfortable margin.

I may well be wrong, but a week before the the 2010 midterms when most political science models and analysts (including Nate Silver) were predicting GOP House gains in the 50 seat and below range - with many models predicting the GOP would fail to even capture the majority in the House - I predicted a 65 seat gain (the actual was 63) and I correctly called all of the Senate races (also something Silver failed to do) - so I'm just sayin'...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Is Obama in Trouble in Minnesota?

Update - 10/25: Mitt Romney has purchased TV ads in Minnesota. Recent polls suggest a very close race there, but Romney may be trying to force President Obama to divert resources to this assumed to be safe state. Romney may as well be seeking the positive coverage such an ad buy would generate as it shows him playing offense on traditionally Democratic turf. We'll know better on November 6th...

Update II - 10/26: The Obama campaign has now started running TV ads as well. Minnesota is in play.


There were whispers that team Obama sensed some danger in Minnesota - a state most have considered to be a safe Obama state. Then came word that the campaign was sending Jill Biden to the state. If the campaign was not concerned they wouldn't be sending anyone. They can't risk sending Obama or Joe Biden because that would make the campaign's Minnesota worries front page news. I was hesitant to accept the Minnesota news, but then I received the following e-mail from my colleague and co-author Steve Schier, the H. and Edward C. Congdon Professor of Political Science at Carleton College in Minnesota. Schier is an expert on Minnesota politics:
"Here is a link to a memo from GOP pollster Glen Bolger revealing a new poll indicating Obama ahead by only 47-43 in Minnesota. A competitive race?


The two most recent SurveyUSA polls of the sixth and eighth Congressional districts provide supportive evidence for Bolger's poll result. In the eighth, a D +3 district, Romney led in the Survey USA poll 47-45. Romney led by 17 points -- 53-36 -- in the sixth district, which has a partisan index of R +7.

Add to that the fact the a major surrogate, Jill Biden, will campaign in the Twin Cities and Duluth next week.

If Minnesota is competitive, Obama is in trouble."
Make no mistake, if Minnesota is in play then Obama has already lost the election. It's now clear that the Romney debate bounce was more than just a bounce. It has remained and translated to crucial swing states. Romney is surging in Florida and Virginia and appears to be ahead in Colorado, New Hampshire, and perhaps Nevada. In Ohio, Romney has eliminated Obama's once considerable lead and now the race is a statistical tie. Even Pennsylvania has become competitive.

The Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls have the race at 49%-47% - advantage Romney. At present, the 2012 race is starting to look like 2004 with Romney as Bush and Obama as Kerry. Assuming 2/3 of the undecideds break for the challenger (common in an election featuring an incumbent) the 49-47 race would end up 51-48 - just as in 2008. In a race that close Romney would win, but receive 300 electoral votes or less. He'd likely lose Minnesota and Pennsylvania - but both would be close.

Beyond what's happening in Minnesota, one need only look at Obama's average in the national polls. Obama is averaging 46% - that's deadly for an incumbent. Obama needs to be polling above 47% to have a chance at re-election.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Case Against Re-electing Obama

The conventions are over. The GOP and the Democrats have had their parties and spent six days preaching to their respective choirs. Ratings and surveys show us that few people watched the conventions and those that did had already made up their minds.

Unfortunately for me the conventions offered little to clarify my choice. You see, I'm an undecided voter. And contrary to the claims of many a pundit, I'm not undecided because I know too little about the candidates or issues. I'm undecided because I know too much.

I do not want to vote for President Obama because he has not earned a second term. I had serious reservations about Senator Obama in 2008. He lacked much experience and ran a campaign premised on vague promises designed to let voters hear what they wanted to hear. There was nothing in his time as either a state or US Senator that suggested he was prepared to be President. In fact, his qualifications appeared to be his ability to give great speeches.

As I consider his record during the last 3.5 years I believe that my reservations regarding his preparedness were largely validated. After promising to be a post-partisan President, Obama repeatedly deferred to then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to craft his legislative agenda. Pelosi is proud partisan who actively sought to exclude House Republicans from any meaningful discussions of legislation.

Obama's first substantial legislation was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (stimulus bill). More than a simple stimulus bill it was actually a Christmas Tree bill adorned with projects House and Senate Democrats had been unable to enact during the prior 8 years of Republican control. Worse, the bill cynically offered financial assistance to states for cash starved Medicaid and Unemployment programs, but in order to receive the temporary funds states were required to make programmatic changes that would increase costs long after the stimulus dollars were gone. Though the President promised much of the stimulus funds would be directed to "shovel ready jobs," only $111 billion of the $800 billion stimulus went to infrastructure. Estimates are the stimulus created or saved 3 million jobs - but at $800 billion that's about $266,000 per job. This is because most of the funds were not directed to job creation. It was a missed opportunity.

Obama again deferred to Congressional leadership for what would become the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In the House, Pelosi shut Republicans out of the process entirely. In the Senate, only Finance Committee chair Max Baucus actively sought a bipartisan bill. In the end his committee produced a bill that did receive the vote of Republican Senator Olympia Snowe. But when it came time to introduce the bill Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced a version that excluded the bipartisan efforts of Baucus. Throughout the process President Obama consistently refused to engage in the debate. He offered little leadership and frequently confused the process as he seemed to waffle on issues such as whether there should be a public option.

When Democrats lost their filibuster proof majority after the stunning election of Republican Scott Brown in early 2010 - an election that served as an early indicator of public opposition to the health care law that was taking shape - the President held a hastily arranged "bipartisan" summit to discuss ways in which Republicans could be part of the reform process. They talked, he listened, and then he ignored their suggestions. In the end, the White House and Congressional Democrats chose to rely on a procedural trick - the use of budget reconciliation - to pass the reform law. Reconciliation allowed the measure to avoid an expected GOP filibuster.

Though I support universal health care, the manner in which the bill was enacted was unacceptable. Additionally there are two major problems at the heart of the bill. The first is the individual mandate - a requirement that every American purchase health insurance. Senator Obama had rejected such a mandate when running for President, but then embraced it after the election. My real objection the mandate was the claim that the Constitution's "Commerce Clause" empowered Congress to compel a citizen to purchase a private good - health insurance. Contrary to the claims of many a partisan pundit, such a claim of power was unprecedented. Ultimately the Supreme Court rejected the commerce clause argument, but upheld the mandate as little more than a tax under a different name.

The second problem with the legislation is its reliance on expanding Medicaid. The law expects to add 17 million people to the rolls of a program that is already breaking most state budgets and suffers from severe physician shortages. In many ways the Medicaid expansion is a cruel joke. It offers the promise of coverage, but many enrollees will still be unable to receive care.

Though I support many of the President's policy goals, I am repeatedly disturbed by the manner in which he achieves them. In November 2010, voters elected a majority Republican House of Representatives. In response to this voter-imposed obstacle to his agenda the President has shown a blatant disregard for constitutional limits on his power and the separation of powers.

He has made recess appointments while Congress was not recessed. He used executive orders to initiate substantive policy changes to the No Child Left Behind Act and the 1996 welfare reform law - even though the originating legislation makes no provision for such executive discretion. He unilaterally decided that he would not enforce elements of US immigration law in order to end deportation of folks who were illegally brought to America as children. Again, I support the goal - allowing folks to remain in the only country they've ever known rather than deport them for laws broken by their parents - but such a decision should be made legislatively and not unilaterally.

But all of these issues pale in comparison to President Obama's national security abuses. The President has established a "secret kill list" and has authorized the execution of suspected terrorists - including American citizens. How this can be defended or justified is beyond explanation. He authorized military action in Libya in direct violation of the constitution and the War Powers Act. And, the President has taken drone warfare to new limits in North Waziristan where he is responsible for the deaths of not just terrorists, but hundreds of innocent men, women, and children - including a 16 year old American citizen in Yemen.

To borrow a phrase from The Atlantic's Connor Friedersdorf, these many transgressions are simply deal-breakers.

I have problems with Mitt Romney and view votes cast for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein as wasted votes. But for all the things I find objectionable about Mitt Romney, he has never killed a 16 year old American citizen. And that sort of makes the whole "47%" comment seem pretty silly.

Cardin is Vulnerable, but will Win in a Landslide

On the morning after the Maryland primary I wrote a piece in which I argued the results revealed some dangers for Maryland Democrats. In the newly gerrymandered 6th congressional district more Republicans than Democrats turned-out to vote even though the 6th district featured the only contested Democratic congressional primary in the state.

I argued then that the presence of ballot initiatives on marriage equality and the Maryland Dream Act may boost conservative and Republican turn-out in November. Such a boost may be enough to protect Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (the Republican targeted by the 6th district gerrymander) and could provide a boost ( a boost, not a win) to Republican Dan Bongino's challenge to incumbent Senator Ben Cardin.

Democrats in the state reacted as they always do when I dare to be critical of them - by accusing me of being a Republican plant trying to provide spin (the fact that I support marriage equality, the Dream Act, and Sen. Cardin are apparently all a part of my brilliant cover). I'm just a fan of good government and two party competition - it helps keep the parties honest and responsive to the public when in power.

I stand by what I wrote in April and I think the new Gonzales poll lends credence to what I wrote. The just released poll finds Ben Cardin receiving the support of only 50% of potential voters. Cardin is vulnerable. He's the most vulnerable Democrat in the state either statewide or at the federal level.

For reasons that I cannot fully explain, Cardin has consistently received the lowest approval ratings of all statewide Democrats. This is surprising to me in that Cardin is one of the few grown-ups left in DC. He demonstrates no clear partisan zeal and seems dedicated above else to simply doing his job. His reward for being an adult has been marginal approval ratings in prior polls and a bare minimum 50% reelect number in this new poll.

The only explanation I can offer is that the lingering effects of the Cardin/Mfume primary in 2006 and the Cardin/Muse contest in April have resulted in soft support for Cardin among African-American Democrats. Cardin receives 71% of the African-American vote in this poll - low for an incumbent Democrat. African-Americans are they most loyal and important voting bloc for the Maryland Democratic Party, yet the party has repeatedly passed over African-American candidates for statewide office. And the newly gerrymandered Congressional districts denied African-Americans a deserved third majority-minority district so that African-American voters could be used to instead protect incumbent white Democrats. African-American voters have cause to be upset with the state party and Cardin may be the outlet for their frustrations.

Yet Cardin will win reelection by double digits. Why? Because two candidates are vying for the 50% of voters not committed to Cardin. The Republican nominee, Dan Bongino, is a political neophyte with precious little money but an impressive life story and credentials. The other candidate on the ballot is Rob Sobhani, an Independent candidate with deep pockets (and equally impressive credentials) who has twice sought and lost the Republican nomination for Senate in Maryland - both times to horrible alternatives.

Bongino has spent nothing on advertising (his first ads start tomorrow) and Sobhani has spent $1.4 million over a recent two week period. The Gonzales poll shows the result of that spending imbalance - Bongino and Sobhani split the anti-Cardin vote down the middle.

The Bongino/Sobhani split reveals one of the greatest contributions to the ongoing success of the Maryland Democratic party (despite it's many problems) - the complete dysfunction of the Maryland Republican Party. Sobhani is a moderate Republican and that likely explains his prior nomination defeats. The Gonzales poll shows him drawing more support among Independents than either Cardin or Bongino. But Maryland's Republican Party refuses to acknowledge a simple reality - the path to being a viable alternative to the Maryland Democratic Party runs through the political center and not to the political right.

Republicans in Democratic states like Massachusetts have shown that moderate GOP candidates can win, but the Maryland GOP keeps running to the right. And that opens the party to a third party threat that will only protect Democrats.

In the last 35 years Democrats have witnessed their voter registration advantage fall from a 70% - 25% split to a 56% - 26% split. Voters have been leaving the the party. But they have been registering as Independents or unaffiliated voters. Maryland Republicans have not been able to capitalize on that decades long flight from the Democrats. In fact, Republicans did better in Maryland when Democrats had a larger registration advantage - because the party ran candidates like Connie Morella, Wayne Gilchrest, and Mac Mathias. Those folks would be run out of the party today - in fact Gilchrest was.

Unless state Republicans can broaden their appeal and design an agenda and a message tailored to Maryland voters and not the national GOP base they will continue to lose races - even ones that are winnable. The Maryland GOP seems to think it can just run on an agenda of "we oppose everything the Democrats do" and win. No, not enough. The Maryland GOP were first to nominate a woman for Governor and first to nominate an African-American for statewide office. Yet they've done nothing policy-wise to broaden their appeal. Nominating candidates is not enough. African-Americans may be frustrated with the state Democratic Party, but the MD GOP has given no reason in recent years for African-Americans (or any minority group for that matter) to even consider supporting a Republican.

The smartest thing the MD GOP could do to begin broadening their appeal is open their primaries to Independent and unaffiliated voters. The Republican base may not like that option or the centrist nominees it would produce, but one has to assume they'd come around pretty quickly if they actually started winning elections again. Of course an upside to this would be that Democrats would then open their primaries and the two parties would compete for Independent voters.

In the absence of a competitive Republican Party, Marylanders will be left with the governance of a single dominant party that has grown complacent and arrogant in the absence of any check on its power. No one is served well by such a situation (No one other than deep pocketed special interest groups like the gambling industry that was able to buy a special session of the General Assembly).

If the goal for the GOP and Sobhani is to defeat Cardin then either Sobhani or Bongino need to exit the race. If the goal, however, is to help reelect a worthy public servant by a comfortable margin then both men are doing an excellent job.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Crowded Gubernatorial Primary in Maryland in 2014?

In January I published a piece in which I explored the likely Democratic field in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial contest. As I saw it at the time: "there are likely to be four big names (and what a rarity that is - four credible candidates) seeking the Democratic nomination, Attorney General Doug Gansler, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Comptroller Peter Franchot, and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman."

In that review I concluded that Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, and not Doug Gansler, was the likely favorite in a 4 person race.
Though many observers of state politics argue Gansler is the clear front runner, I would suggest that conclusion is anything but certain. If the 2014 primary were like a typical Democratic primary in recent years with only two credible candidates then certainly Gansler would be the favorite - but in a three man race his odds drop considerably and in a 4 man race a clear new favored candidate emerges from the pack - Lt. Governor Anthony Brown. In a multi-candidate race featuring Brown, the closest competitor will be the candidate who can appeal to rural Marylanders in Western Maryland, the Eastern Shore, and Southern Maryland - that candidate is not (at least not yet) Doug Gansler.

Franchot has positioned himself as the candidate of fiscal constraint and is clearly attempting to create a relationship with parts of Maryland long overlooked by Democrats and Democratic candidates. If Franchot can become the candidate of "the rest of Maryland" while dividing the I-95 corridor vote, he may emerge atop the pack.
In the 9 months since I made those assessments I believe that they still hold. I argued at the time that Brown's greatest threat was likely to be O'Malley fatigue. The disaster that was the 2012 legislative session followed by the two special sessions that yielded O'Malley advocated tax increases on Marylanders and substantial tax cuts for millionaire casino operators I think the O'Malley fatigue problem will weigh heavily on Brown.

Franchot has been a consistent and forceful voice of opposition to the tax hikes and the to expansion of casino gambling. But Franchot has been especially vocal in his anger over the role of money in influencing the casino issue during the special session. His demands for disclosure of gambling related donations received by members of the assembly and his recent call for real time disclosure of contributions were all welcome calls for reform - that I believe resonate well with the public.

For these reasons and more I see Franchot's stock rising in the 2014 guber-stakes. Hints that Montgomery County Del. Heather Mizeur is considering a run adds in many ways to Franchot's stock. Mizeur is a rising star in the state Democratic Party and no one should underestimate her future. But in a multi-candidate primary I believe that Mizeur's presence only serves to divide the core progressive Democratic base. In a contest featuring Mizeur, Ulman, Gansler, and Brown the I-95 corridor will be split multiple ways and suddenly "the rest of Maryland" as I termed it in January becomes that much more crucial. That only helps Franchot.

But there are storm clouds threatening Franchot's chance in that 5 person race - a cloud in the shape of former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith. In a July, 2011 piece I wrote of the 2014 contest and theorized a 3 person race that included Gansler, Brown, and Franchot. I concluded then that a three person race helped Franchot, but offered this caveat:
In a three-way race, if Gansler and Brown have split the base vote of the party, Franchot can emerge the victor with no more than 34% of the vote. It's a wise strategy, but also the only strategy available to him.

Only one thing could upend Franchot's approach - Jim Smith. Smith is the former county Executive from Baltimore County and a former judge. He is a moderate Democrat with a base of support in an important part of the state.

If Smith enters the race and Gansler and Brown split the base vote and Franchot and Smith split the moderate to conservative vote then anyone of them could become the nominee with no more that 26% of the vote.

I had since dropped Smith from consideration as I was hearing quite clearly that he would not be running, but today Maryland Juice is reporting that Jim Smith is considering a run... a 6 person contest.

I still believe Smith and Franchot would split the moderate to conservative vote. In such a scenario I think the odds shift back to Brown - but in many ways this mix of candidates throws the race wide open.

Stay Tuned...

Friday, August 17, 2012

It's Time to Get Fracking!

I have been mostly ambivalent about fracking an the extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus shale deposit. But the news that US CO2 emissions have fallen to 1992 levels almost entirely because of energy producers shifting away from coal and instead using natural gas has won me over. To have fallen to 1992 levels of CO2 with no regulation, no caps, no carbon tax, and no increased prices to consumers is just incredible. Imagine the impact if we converted more cars into natural gas vehicles?


I've researched this issue and I've taught this. I understand quite well the arguments put forward by environmentalists. I understand their concern about contamination of the water by the chemicals used in the fracking process. But ground water contamination from fracking is rare. In fact there is one documented place where ground water contamination from fracking may have ocurred - Pavilion, WY. Pavilion is a remote town of about 160 people. High levels of the chemicals linked to fracking have been found in groundwater supplies and the EPA is testing to confirm the source. But the aquifer in Pavilion was located only a few hundred feet above the shale gas deposit.

The Marcellus shale is so deep below natural aquifers - several thousand feet - that there is little to no risk of water contamination. Surface spills remain a risk, but a small risk. A recent study by Robert Jackson, a biology professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, has been used by fracking opponents because the study found "salty, mineral-rich fluids deep beneath Pennsylvania's natural gas fields are likely seeping upward thousands of feet into drinking water supplies." Opponents have used that finding to warn that fracking byproducts may do the same. But those opponents ignore other key aspects of the study - "the fluids were natural and not the byproduct of drilling or hydraulic fracturing" and "No drilling chemicals were detected in the water, and there was no correlation between where the natural brine was detected and where drilling takes place." Further, Jackson has said "We don't know if this happens over a couple of years, or over millennia" and he "considers it unlikely that frack fluids and injected man-made waste are migrating into drinking water supplies."

The PA town of Dimock was made famous in 2009 after a documentary filmmaker critical of fracking publicized complaints by residents that fracking was contaminating their water. But recent tests by the EPA determined the drinking water in the town was not contaminated.

The Marcellus Shale deposit stretches from New York south through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Western Maryland, and into West Virginia.



Please understand, I am not advocating fracking and natural gas extraction as a solution to the larger problem of greenhouse gas emissions or our reliance on fossil fuels. Understand as well that I am well versed in the environmental case against fracking in general - in addition to concerns about drinking water quality there are concerns that fracking may cause earthquakes. The US Geological Survey recently determined that fracking has likely resulted in increased tremors and minor earthquakes. But the USGS was unsure why and there is evidence to suggest that the disposal of waste water deep underground, as opposed to fracking, may be the culprit. Methane has roughly 4 times the heat trapping capacity of CO2. If increased extraction of natural gas were to result in higher levels of methane escaping and leaking into the atmosphere then the reduction in CO2 achieved by switching from coal to natural gas could be negated. So clearly there is an imperative to better contain gas at the points of extraction and distribution. Natural gas extraction is not without problems, but I argue the benefits from reduced reliance on coal outweigh those problems.

Fracking the Marcellus Shale has been ongoing in Pennsylvania and policymakers in New York are about to resume fracking by lifting a moratorium in place since 2008. It is estimated the Marcellus Shale deposit contains enough natural gas to power the U.S. for twenty years - this is crucial.

We are nowhere near developing a reliable renewable resource for energy production. Nuclear power is a great option but also a political hot potato owing to concerns about waste disposal and long term costs. Whether we opted for nuclear or solar or wind it would take considerable time to construct sufficient facilities to replace the energy currently provided by fossil fuels. Perhaps more important, our politics are marked by divided government and polarized parties. As a result, any progress on establishing a true national alternative to or reliance on fossil fuels is years away. Worse, perhaps, we mired in debt. Our annual deficits exceed $1 trillion and our accumulated debt has surpassed our GDP. Couple those realities with our divided and polarized government and you'll realize that there will be no national investment in infrastructure improvement anytime soon.

Natural gas is a stop-gap. It's an alternative to coal that is viable and readily accessible. And for all the concerns about natural gas it is a far superior alternative to coal - strip mining, coal dust, coal ash, CO2,  arsenic, mercury, chromium, and cadmium are all part and parcel of our reliance on coal. Would it be best to find a renewable resource? Of course. Is natural gas perfect? No.

But our quest for the perfect should not prevent us from doing the possible. Public policy is about making tough choices among less than perfect options. Right now, the best and only realistic choice for the US is natural gas. It's a choice we need to make - and the sooner the better.

Until we do find and are able to implement a viable zero emission energy source, we need to continue our shift away from coal and to natural gas and that means fracking Marcellus.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Congressional Dysfunction, Part 3 - The Rise of Conservative Republicans: 1976-1994

Part 3 of an ongoing series exploring the roots of our dysfunctional Congress.


Just as Figure 4.1 shows congressional Democrats moving left beginning in the 1950s, it shows as well that Republicans began their own ideological journey right starting in the late 1970s. Though the congressional elections of 1976 and 1978 did not see significant changes in the balance of power in the House or Senate, they did witness the election of more conservative Republicans. Republicans influenced by an emerging activist and ideological conservatism. In 1978, 35 Republican freshmen arrived in the House, including Newt Gingrich (R-GA) who became secretary of the group. In the face of what had seemed permanent minority status, these activist Republicans sought other means by which to influence the process, frequently raising questions of possible ethics violations by majority party members.



The election of 1980 changed the perspective of many Republicans and raised the possibility of reclaiming control of Congress. Republicans erased all of the losses they had suffered since 1964 and returned to pre-Watergate levels in the House. Additionally, the party continued to build on its presence in the south. Republicans netted 12 seats in the Senate, including four new seats in the south. More significantly, Republicans claimed control of the Senate for the first time since 1953.  A new Republican party was emerging. It was a more uniformly conservative party with a steadily growing southern accent.

The arrival of recorded votes offered incentives to the minority party as well. Prior to 1971 votes on amendments were not recorded. Members of the House might vote simply by stating “aye” or “nay” or simply inform the vote teller of their position – but there would be no list of how each member voted. Only those in the chamber would know how a member voted. With the introduction of recorded and then electronic voting every member’s vote became a matter of public record. This encouraged the minority party to offer amendments to force tough or even embarrassing votes for majority party members – especially those from districts competitive districts. The change was dramatic. All told there was an eightfold increase in the number of floor amendments subject to a recorded vote between the 84th Congress, convened in 1955, and the 95th Congress, adjourned in 1978. 

Newt Gingrich saw the potential afforded by the new openness created in the 1970s. Gingrich and likeminded Republicans formed the Conservative Opportunity Society (COS) in 1983. The COS served as the conservative Republican counterpart to progressives’ Democratic Study Group established in the 1950s. The COS took advantage of House rules and used floor amendments to force Democrats to make politically challenging votes. This was an effective way to embarrass Democrats from vulnerable districts in an era of televised floor proceedings and recorded votes. The minority party lacks the power to overcome majority party advantages in the House, so the COS instead used the House floor as a platform to undermine confidence in the Democratic majority.

Republicans used ethics reforms adopted in the 1970s to target Democratic leaders. In quick succession ethics inquiries and investigations led to the resignations of Democratic Speaker of the House Jim Wright and Majority Whip Tony Coelho in 1989 – that same year Gingrich gained election as Minority Whip, the second highest-ranking Republican leadership position in the House. A scandal involving the House bank in 1991 and the House Post Office in 1993 followed the resignations of Wright and Coelho. Though Democrats and Republicans alike were found to have overdrawn their accounts in the House bank, the scandal contributed to a COS narrative of a corrupt Congress controlled by Democrats. Nearly 80 House members either retired or were defeated in 1992 because of the bank scandal. The election 47 freshman Republicans to the House accompanied the election of Democrat Bill Clinton as President in 1992. Figure 4.1 clearly shows the growing conservatism of House Republicans during that time.  Senate Republicans steadily followed suit. Conservative House members, first elected after 1978 and subsequently elected to the Senate (Theriault and Rohde 2011), helped to produce the growing polarization within the Senate.

The House Post Office scandal erupted in 1993 and effectively ended the career of Democratic Representative Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL) the very powerful Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. The cumulative effect of the scandals and public dissatisfaction with President Clinton was the Republican sweep of the 1994-midterm elections. In the 1994, election Republicans realized a net gain of 54 seats in the House and 8 seats in the Senate and assumed full control of the U.S. Congress for the first time since 1954. Gingrich gained election as Speaker of the new Republican controlled House. Republicans would hold the majority in the House and Senate until 2007, with the exception of a brief period in the Senate from 2001-2003.

 Next: Part 4 - The Contemporary Congress – Polarization, Professionalization and Competition

Monday, July 30, 2012

Maryland Democrats "Provide" Weak Argument Against Redistricting Petition

The full text of the Maryland Democratic Party's legal challenge to the successful petition effort to place the state's egregiously gerrymandered congressional map has been filed and is available on-line.
The meat of the legal arguments appears in Section V starting at paragraph 31. The first argument is against the petition process as employed by MDPetitions.com - an innovative website that allows voters to download petitions with information from voter registration records already populated on the form. This is an important step because Maryland laws makes it very easy for the state Board of Elections to reject petitions over missing middle initials, missing zip codes, or other common errors.

The MDpetitions.com process minimizes the possibility of errors. That process is the primary bases for the Maryland Democratic Party's legal objection (text from the legal filing presented in red:

34. Md. Code Ann., Elec. Law Art. § 6-203(a) provides that, to sign a petition, "an individual shall," in addition to signing the individual's name, "include the following information, printed or typed, in the spaces provided: (i) the signer's name as it was signed; (ii) the signer's address; (iii) the date of signing; and (iv) other information required by regulations adopted by the State Board." The statute this makes clear that the individual signer must print in her name and address next to her signature.

35. That requirement is also set forth in the State Board's regulation, COMAR § 33.06.03.06(B), which provides that when signing the signature page, "each signer shall . .. (2) Provide the following information to be printed or typed in the appropriate spaces: (a) Date of signing, (b) Signer's name as it was signed, and (c) Current residence address, including house number, street name, apartment number (if applicable), town and ZIP code" (emphasis added).

36. On the "Pre-Filled Petition" forms generated by MdPetitionis.com, the signer has not, as required by section 6-203(a) "included" her printed name and address, nor has the signer "provided" that information as required by COMAR § 33.06.03.06(B). Rather, the information has been "included" and "provided" by a computer program created and operated by the petition sponsors, MDPetitions.com, through the Internet.

Essentially the Democrats' arguments comes down to the meaning of the word "provide." They argue that petition signers who used MDPetitions.com to download their petitions did not provide the necessary information - rather MDPetitions.com did. This is a poor argument and rests on a very specific and inappropriate understanding of the word "provide." The Democrats clearly argue that a petitioner can only provide the required information if they personally type or hand write it. But a full reading of Maryland election law concerning petitions makes rather clear that provide actually means - a petitioner must provide the needed information to the appropriate election authority and the information is to be contained in the petition document.

So, when a person goes to MDPetitions.com and enters their information and downloads a petition with much of their information already filled in they are simply taking the steps necessary to provide the proper election authority with the required information. By printing and signing the form the petitioner has provided the information.

In a subsequent paragraph, Democrats claim the MDPetitions.com process is equivalent to providing a pre-filled petition,

38. That such "Pre-Filled Petitions" violate the requirements of state law even as interpreted by the State Board itself is confirmed by the current version of the State Board's Petition Signature Gathering "Frequently Asked Questions," posted on the State Board's website during 20 II, which stated:

"Can a petition sponsor pre-print signatures pages with voters' names and addresses, so that if a voter agrees to sign the petition, the voters need only fill in his or her signature, date of birth, and date of signing?

No."

39. The current updated version of those Petition Signature Gathering "Frequently Asked Question," posted on the State Board's website as of the date hereof, similarly states:

"Can a petition sponsor use a 'walking list' containing all registered voters' names and addresses, so that if a voter agrees to sign the petition, the voter need only fill in his or her signature, date of birth and date of signing?

No."

The "Pre-Filled Petition" form constitutes precisely such a "walking list." If a voter wanted to sign the pre-filled petitions generated by MdPetitions.com, the voter would "need only fill in his or her signature, date of birth and date of signing."

Again, the Democratic Party's argument is a bit too narrow here. A petition downloaded from MDPetitions.com is not precisely the same as a "walking list" or a "pre-filled petition" as discussed on the State Board of Elections FAQ. MDPetitions.com does not pre-print signatures pages with voters' names and addresses. Rather the person downloading and signing the petition prints the form after accessing it using their voter registration information.

Likewise, MDPetitions.com does not provide a 'walking list' containing all registered voters' names and addresses, so that if a voter agrees to sign the petition, the voter need only fill in his or her signature, date of birth and date of signing? Again, the actual petition signator must access and download the form that they then sign and submit. In both the case of a walking list and pre-filled petition the signer is a passive participant at every stage accept signing the form. The MDPetitions.com process requires that the signer actively initiate the process - there is a clear difference.

Democrats then turn to the "fraud" argument:

40. There are sound policy reasons for requiring, as the statute and regulations clearly do, the  petition signer to fill in his or her own information on the form, rather than allowing that information to be filled in by someone else. Anyone-including someone other than the voter-using the MDPetitions.com website who knows the name, zip code and birth date of any Maryland voter could have the website generate a "Pre-Filled Petition Form" with that voter's information pre-printed, both in the signing block and the circulator's affidavit. The user (who is not the voter) could then print out the form, sign the voter's name in the signature space and in the circulator's affidavit and mail the form to MDPetitions.com for submission to the Secretary of State and State Board.

41. In the situation described in the preceding paragraph, there is absolutely no procedure or step in the statute, regulations or State Board practice that could detect the fraud. Nothing in the statute or regulations requires the local boards or State Board to check the signature of the person purportedly signing against the voter registration records, and it is the practice of the local boards and State Board not to do so.

The Democrats' argument here being that the MDPetitions.com has made petition fraud almost as easy as vote fraud - given that it would still be a bit easier to vote as someone else in Maryland than to download a petition pretending to be someone else.

In one of the most infuriating arguments put forth by the Maryland Democratic Party, they argue that no person may be a witness to her or his own signature.

44. Article XVI, section 4 of the Maryland Constitution provides that, "There shall be attached to each paper of signatures filed with a petition an affidavit of the person procuring those signatures that the signatures were affixed in his presence that, based upon the person's best knowledge and belief, every signature on the paper is genuine and bona fide .... "

45. Md. Code Ann., Elec. Law § 6-204(a) requires that "Each signature page shall contain an affidavit made and executed by the individual in whose presence all of the signatures on that page were affixed and who observed each of those signatures being affixed." Section 6204(b) provides that, "The affidavit shall contain the statements, required by regulation, designed to assure the validity of the signatures and the fairness of the petition process."

46. The State Board's regulations, COMAR § 33.06.03.08, provides that the circulator's affidavit "shall state that ... (3) The circulator personally observed each signer as the page was signed; and (4) To the best of the circulator's knowledge and belief, all (a) signatures on the petition are genuine, and (b) Signers are registered voters in the State."

47. The manifest purpose of the requirements set forth in Md. Constitution Art. XVI, § 4 and Md. Code Ann., Elec. Law §§ 6-204(a) and (b) is to help prevent fraud by having an individual witness persons signing the petition and having that individual-the circulator swear that the person who signed the petition actually tilled in her own information and signed her own name in the presence of the circulator. That purpose is utterly defeated by allowing a circulator to attest to his or her own signature.

48. Permitting a circulator to attest to his or her own signature is contrary to the plain language ofMd Const. Art. XVI, § 4 and Md. Code Ann., Elec. Law § 6-204(a) that the signature be affixed "in the presence of the" circulator and that the circulator "personally observe" each signer as the page was signed. No person can serve as a witness to his or her own actions.

49. Nevertheless, the State Board counted as valid a number of signatures of persons who attested to their own signature as the circulator. Those signatures are invalid as a matter of law.

So, according the Democrats' argument, you can only submit your signature on a petition if someone else was circulating the petition. According to them, if you were the sole signatore too bad. If you were the circulator and signed your own petition in addition to other voters - too bad - your signature should be tossed.

The actual section of state law reads (in purple):

§ 6-204. Circulators; affidavit of the circulator.

(a) In general. — Each signature page shall contain an affidavit made and executed by the individual in whose presence all of the signatures on that page were affixed and who observed each of those signatures being affixed.
(b) Requirements. — The affidavit shall contain the statements, required by regulation, designed to assure the validity of the signatures and the fairness of the petition process.
(c) Age of circulator. —A circulator must be at least 18 years old at the time any of the signatures covered by the affidavit are affixed. (An. Code 1957, art.33, § 6-204; 2002, ch. 291, §§ 2, 4.)

Nowhere does this indicate that a person cannot be witness to their own signature. In fact, Article XVI, Section 4 of the Maryland Constitution reads:

SEC. 4. A petition may consist of several papers, but each paper shall contain the full text, or an accurate summary approved by the Attorney General, of the Act or part of Act petitioned. There shall be attached to each paper of signatures filed with a petition an affidavit of the person procuring those signatures that the signatures were affixed in his presence and that, based upon the person's best knowledge and belief, every signature on the paper is genuine and bona fide and that the signers are registered voters at the address set opposite or below their names. The General Assembly shall prescribe by law the form of the petition, the manner for verifying its authenticity, and other administrative procedures which facilitate the petition process and which are not in conflict with this Article (amended by Chapter 548, Acts of 1976, ratified Nov. 2, 1976; Chapter 849, Acts of 1982, ratified Nov. 2, 1982).
Again, there is no suggestion that the person procuring the signatures cannot as well be a signator. To suggest that state law prohibits a person from being the sole signator on a petition is to deny the very right to petition as provided by the state Constitution.

Finally, in paragraphs 50-65 Democrats resort to the Sauerbrey argument. They argue based "On information and belief" - and one can assume it is more the latter than the former that the state Board of Elections improperly accepted as valid petitions where the signator's printed name and signature were not a perfect match or where there was a discrepancy with the signature matching the voter registration information. Also based "On information and belief" they argue some addresses were not provided in a matter consistent with state law. They further argue some contained dates that were not in the proper format and that some signatures were simply fraudulent. In paragraph 62 they simply declare some some signatures are null and void because they believe the same person signed for more than one person. Having made that declaration, they then make the logical next step - if indeed one person signed for two people then the circulator's affidavit of authenticity must be null and void as well, meaning every signature on the submitted petition should be tossed.

In 1994, Republican Ellen Sauerbrey lost the gubernatorial election to Parris Glendening by a scant 5,993 votes. Almost immediately Sauerbrey contended massive vote fraud - one assumes based "on information and belief." Sauerbrey acted as if she was the governor-elect even attending a meeting of the National Governors Association held weeks after the election. Her lawsuit and allegations of massive vote fraud went nowhere. Her refusal to accept the outcome of the election destroyed her reputation and made her a punchline in Maryland politics.

By law, the state Board of Elections is tasked with validating signatures on petitions for referenda. They check for correct addresses, correct dates, matching signatures. The Board of Elections determined that roughly 10% of the signatures submitted were invalid - but that  59,201 signatures were accepted by the board - roughly 4,000 more than the 55,736 needed to put the map on the ballot for a referendum. Maryland Democrats' are now claiming the Board of Elections did not do it's job.

In all, I find the arguments put forth by the Maryland Democratic Party to be very weak. That they had to resort to parsing the meaning of "provide" or claiming that a person could not be the sole signator on a petition is evidence of the weak case. The claims of fraud... well they sound like the same unsubstantiated fraud claims the GOP has used in other states to justify voter ID laws. One hopes a judge will simply dismiss the case. Either way, the legal challenge does great damage to the credibility of the Maryland Democratic Party. The congressional map at the center of the petition drive is itself an insult to the voters of the state. As argued by the editors of the Washington Post:

"The map, drafted under Mr. O’Malley’s watchful eye, mocks the idea that voting districts should be compact or easily navigable. The eight districts respect neither jurisdictional boundaries nor communities of interest. To protect incumbents and for partisan advantage, the map has been sliced, diced, shuffled and shattered, making districts resemble studies in cubism... Federal officials or the courts will ultimately judge whether Mr. O’Malley’s plan is illegal under the Voting Rights Act. The broader question is whether it promotes fair and rational democracy. Anyone looking at the map can answer that one."

Denied the right to fair representation under the map adopted by the General Assembly and signed by the governor voters exercised the only option they had to prevent the partisan power grab represented by the map - the right to petition. State Democrats now want to deny that right as well.

No one disputes that this kind of brazen partisan gerrymandering is employed by Republicans and Democrats. These maps undermine the concept of representative Democracy and do harm to the nation. Not all voters enjoy the same rights as do Marylanders to challenge the map via petition and referendum. If Marylanders stand up against this abuse of process and reject the map, it may be just the push needed to convince Congress to impose on all states a non-partisan process for redistricting.

One can only hope the Democratic Party's legal challenge is dismissed and that the people will be heard.