Two Democrats who lost in close Baltimore City Council campaigns in September say they're not giving up.
Incumbent 7th District Councilwoman Belinda Conaway and 13th District challenger Shannon Sneed have launched write-in campaigns for the November general election, seeking to defeat the candidates who beat them in the Sept. 13 primary.
Longtime political observers said they've never heard of a successful write-in campaign in Baltimore, but the primary election's record-low voter turnout could give the challengers hope. Only 23 percent of registered city voters cast ballots this month.
Lester Spence, an assistant professor of political science at the Johns Hopkins University, pointed out that Baltimore's general elections have historically attracted even fewer voters than primaries, so a City Council challenger such as Conaway or Sneed could need fewer than 2,000 votes to win.
"If it's going to be anybody, it's going to be them [Conaway or Sneed]," Spence said. "The election will have low turnout — even lower than the primary. If Conaway has a few large institutions in her community [behind her,] say, 500 committed people who all bring a friend, it's still hard, but actually it's not as difficult as you'd think."
A member of a well-known political family, Conaway lost in the primary by 653 votes to political newcomer Nick Mosby, an electrical engineer from Reservoir Hill, in a campaign during which Mosby challenged Conaway's residency and tax forms. She denounced his charges.
Conaway — whose father, mother and brother are all elected officials — declined to comment on her write-in campaign.
Sneed, a former television news assignment editor from East Baltimore, lost to incumbent Councilman Warren Branch by 43 votes. She said Thursday that she hasn't decided whether to actively campaign for the seat but filed so she has that option.
"To even have a chance, I put my name in there," Sneed said. "I still need to speak with certain people in my neighborhood to make sure they're still with me. I believe that they will be, because of the overwhelming response I received before."
Two high-profile write-in campaigns were waged in the 1970s, but neither was successful, said Larry Gibson, a University of Maryland law professor who has managed major campaigns in Baltimore for decades.
The first black state's attorney in Baltimore, Milton B. Allen, lost the 1974 Democratic primary to William A. Swisher in an upset that surprised many in the black community, Gibson said.
Gibson, who was Allen's campaign manager, said they organized myriad workshops and seminars and had volunteers pass out pencils at the polls — "We had thousands and thousands of pencils," Gibson said.
But in the end, though Allen garnered more than 50,000 write-in votes — which Gibson said he believes is the most in state history for a write-in campaign — he lost by about 20,000 votes to Swisher.
The next year, Norman V.A. Reeves, a high school principal, received more than 6,000 votes in a losing effort for a City Council seat. Reeves lost in the primary after his opponents registered an unemployed truck driver whose last name was also Reeves to confuse voters. Norman Reeves won a council seat in the next election cycle.
Although write-in candidates have historically been unsuccessful, Spence cautioned the winners of the primary not to coast.
"If I were Warren or Nick, I wouldn't rest. I wouldn't be done. I'd spend enough that people know the race isn't over," he said.
Write-in candidates have until Nov. 2 to register for the Nov. 8 general election. If they do not register, under Maryland law they would be prohibited from taking office even if they received enough votes to win.
Four others have also filed as official write-in candidates.
In the 10th Council District, two write-in candidates — Erica S. White, who finished third of three in the primary election, and Adam Van Bavel, a community activist from Pigtown — are challenging incumbent Councilman Edward L. Reisinger.
Van Bavel said he's running as a write-in candidate because he's a registered Independent and didn't get enough signatures in time to get on the November ballot.
"My chances would have been better if I had been on the ballot," he said. "But I've got a strong campaign built up over the past two years. I'm going to have people at every poll. I've got a lot of plans up my sleeve. I think I have a pretty good shot."
White said she wanted to make sure residents have the option of voting for her, even though she doesn't consider her chances of winning improved.
In the mayor's race, only one person, Steven H. Smith, has filed as a write-in candidate.
Michael Johnson, who finished fifth in the 9th District City Council race, said he also filed Thursday. Councilman William "Pete" Welch won the Democratic Party primary in that race.