Now, it's all about turnout

With just two days left until polls open on Election Day, all sides of Maryland's fiercely contested ballot questions are turning to their final task: getting their supporters into the voting booth.

To accomplish that goal, the campaigns have recruited churches, labor unions and other advocacy groups to help find voters, and many will rely on get-out-the-vote machines they've built themselves from the ground up.

"We will keep calling you until you have voted," promised Adam Limehouse, field director for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, which is supporting the state's same-sex marriage law. "It is the way to get people out, and it really does work."

Ditto for opponents of same-sex marriage, who launched a robocall campaign Friday to remind voters to cast ballots. Both sides will field phone banks in the Washington suburbs over the weekend. Plans for other campaigns include a rally in Baltimore by supporters of an immigrant education measure, leafleting in the suburbs by those opposed, and church sermons on multiple questions all over the state.

The unusually aggressive get-out-the-vote push is due to the busy state ballot which, for the first time in 50 years, includes three hot-button laws that were petitioned to referendum. Adding to the cacophony, Maryland's General Assembly asked voters to decide on a gambling expansion law.

That measure alone has attracted $70 million in spending from casino interests — nearly what was spent in the last three Maryland gubernatorial races combined.

Heavy get-out-the-vote activity is expected on these statewide ballot questions:

•Question 4: Should the state uphold the Dream Act, which would allow illegal immigrants who graduated from Maryland high schools and whose parents have filed three years' worth of state tax returns to qualify for in-state tuition rates at Maryland colleges and universities?

•Question 5: Should the state keep or scrap the new congressional boundaries drawn in the once-a-decade redistricting process? A federal judge called the map a blatant case of gerrymandering, but the court found it legal.

•Question 6: Should the state uphold a new law allowing same-sex marriage in Maryland?

•Question 7: Should the state allow a sixth casino, to be build in Prince George's County, and also allow table games like poker at all Maryland gambling locations?

A vote "for" each measure would uphold it. A vote "against" would knock down the law — or, in the case of the congressional map, send it back to the General Assembly to be redrawn.

The ballot questions pose a special challenge in a state that does not usually put laws before the electorate to decide. Each campaign must be sure voters continue reading the lengthy ballot after casting a presidential vote.

"Their most important turnout activity is to make sure their supporters go all the way down the ballot," said Mike Morrill, a veteran Democratic strategist. "Casual or infrequent voters are far less likely to complete the ballot, especially when whole portions may be 'hidden' on the electronic machines, requiring scrolling."

An obvious first place to turn for motivation is the state's elected leaders. Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, supports all four measures.

"We have seen some pretty good evidence that the GOTV effort is working," O'Malley said during a recent conference call with reporters.

He pushed a partisan message, which can work in a state like Maryland that has twice as many Democrats as Republicans. "These measures were all passed by the Democratic legislature," the governor said. "When it comes to most of the ballot questions, the opposition came from one wing of the Republican party."

On Thursday night, members of that Republican bloc rallied at Blob's Park Bavarian Beer Garden in Anne Arundel County to motivate their supporters. Advocates put together red yard signs urging "no" votes on all four laws. They handed out stacks of bumper stickers against each question and "palm cards" highlighting the convoluted lines of the state's congressional map.

"For the first time in a long time we are making a difference," said Del. Nic Kipke, an Anne Arundel Republican, speaking to a room of about 50 people from across the state.

"Even if you are not with us for all of the questions, your voice — for the first time in decades — matters," he said.

The better-funded ballot campaigns are constructing their own get-out-the-vote organizations. Starting from scratch, they have used their resources to seek out like-minded voters across party lines.

Limehouse, the pro-same-sex-marriage field director, pointed out that in some campaigns one can use party identification as "a reliable measure" of support. "That has not been the case with marriage equality this year," he said, as Democrats and Republicans are found on both sides of the issue.

Thus, his group bought the state database of its 3.5 million registered voters and divided up the list among volunteers. The goal: ferret out the supporters on that list and keep talking to them. To that end, he said the group made more than 100,000 phone calls during October and, over several months, 50,000 home visits.

The army of Election Day help includes Walter Olson, a 58-year-old gay Republican who will be stationed at the polls in Frederick County on Tuesday. He likes to talk to voters about how same-sex marriage is a logical position for libertarians like himself.

"There is a strong tradition that church and state are separated," Olson said recently.

Opponents of Question 6 have also built their own organization, starting with legions of volunteers from across the political spectrum whom they recruited to help with the petition drive when O'Malley signed the same-sex marriage law in March.

So their volunteers are tested, having produced more than 160,000 signatures to get the law on the ballot.

The campaign contacted everyone who signed. "We reached out to them and asked if they would like to help," said Dee Powell, a field organizer for the Maryland Marriage Alliance, the leading group opposing Question 6. "We've had a good response."

They include people like Karen Burns, a 41-year-old event organizer from Fort Washington who was between jobs and decided to volunteer after signing the petition. She was moved to work on behalf of "traditional marriage" after hearing her pastor speak about the importance of the institution.

Now the registered Democrat says she spends her days making phone calls to get people to distribute literature at the polls and vote no on the marriage question. "I feel that I'm really making a difference," she said.

Some ballot campaigns are turning to outside organizations, including groups with little or no experience in retail politicking.

The Maryland Catholic Conference, the legislative arm of Maryland's Catholic Church, has spent the last year identifying parishioners who support the Dream Act or oppose same-sex marriage.

"We are asking them to vote," said Kathy Dempsey, a spokeswoman for the conference. Once the church finds a potential voter, the person is "funneled" to the appropriate campaign, she said.

"This is completely new for us," Dempsey said. "Usually we are very focused on the legislative session and larger policy issues. Nothing akin to campaigning."

Even the gambling expansion question — where each side has dedicated most of its vast resources to television and radio commercials — is developing a ground game for Election Day.

Most conspicuous is a new group headed by former Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry to do "grass-roots" campaigning in support of Question 7.

As of Friday, his committee had more than $1 million in the bank to spend. Curry said it will be used for old-fashioned voter outreach. "It's just a different approach to connecting people to the messages," Curry said. "We've got an opportunity to take Maryland money away from West Virginia, and we ought to do it."

Fred Mason, president of the Maryland and D.C. AFL-CIO, said his federation represents more than 300,000 people and will staff phone banks, knock on doors and stage events such as today's VoterFest at Coppin State University. Local entertainers were lined up to entertain the crowd and drum up enthusiasm for voting.

Mason said his coalition plans to concentrate its efforts in areas of Baltimore with high registration but historically low turnout. A particular effort will be made to bring out about 14,000 recently registered voters, who typically fail to show up without encouragement, he said.

While VoterFest is billed as nonpartisan, he said many rank-and-file union members are supporting gambling expansion because of the jobs and government revenue they believe it will generate. "It ends up being a relatively easy sell among union members — particularly when you consider that public employees, state and municipal, know what it's like to be furloughed," he said.

"They know this is about jobs. Union members tend to believe that, and everybody knows somebody who's unemployed."

Many black churches stand on the other side of gambling expansion. The Rev. Jonathan Weaver, pastor of Greater Mount Nebo African Methodist Episcopal Church in Bowie, is accustomed to making Election Day pitches against gambling. He believes it is both harmful and wrong.

"I've been fighting this ever since this issue first came up in the legislature in Annapolis years ago," he said. "It's not as if we're Johnny-come-lately over this issue."





Maryland ballot questions

Maryland voters will decide the outcome of seven state ballot questions in the Nov. 6 election.

Question 1 — All Maryland voters will decide whether the judges in Prince George's County who oversee estate and will disputes must be admitted to the Maryland Bar. Baltimore City and Montgomery and Harford counties currently require this.

Supporters say the measure will professionalize the Orphans' Court, which oversees estate disputes.

Opponents are concerned that the change will lead to a statewide requirement that Orphans' Court judges be attorneys, which they argue is unnecessary.

Question 2 — All Maryland voters will decide whether the judges in Baltimore County who oversee estate and will disputes must be admitted to the Maryland Bar. Baltimore City and Montgomery and Harford counties currently require this.

Supporters say the measure will professionalize the Orphans' Court, which oversees estate disputes.

Opponents are concerned that the change will lead to a statewide requirement that Orphans' Court judges be attorneys, which they argue is unnecessary.

Question 3 — Voters will decide if the Maryland Constitution should be changed so that a lawmaker, such as a mayor, county council member or state legislator would be suspended from office immediately after being found guilty of a felony or crime of moral turpitude. Currently an official must step down only after sentencing — which can be many months later. Lawmakers who plead guilty of such crimes would be immediately removed from office.

The change was prompted in part by controversy surrounding Prince George's County Councilwoman Leslie Johnson, who flushed a check for $100,000 when federal agents came to her home. After pleading guilty to a corruption charge, a loophole allowed her to continue in office — drawing a salary — until sentencing.

A similar circumstance arose after a jury found former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon guilty of theft in December 2010. She remained in office until early February 2011, when she resigned as part of a plea deal.

The suggested change to the state constitution passed both the House and Senate unanimously.

Question 4 — Voters will determine whether to uphold a state law that would allow some illegal immigrants to pay lower, in-state tuition at Maryland colleges and universities. To qualify, a student would have to attend three years at a Maryland high school and graduate from it (or earn a GED.) Also, the student's parents would have to show they've filed state tax returns during those three years. The law is known as the Dream Act.

Supporters say it is unfair to deny children the opportunities that come with higher education because of sins their parents committed in coming to the country illegally. They say the requirements are strict and that only a few hundred immigrants would qualify each year.

Opponents say the change would reward lawbreaking and would draw more illegal immigrants to the state. They also balk at the $3.5 million annual price tag, saying the state should not extend new services while cutting other programs.

Question 5 — Voters will decide whether to uphold the state law that redrew the boundaries of Maryland's eight congressional districts. Judges have said the map is gerrymandered but legal.

Supporters say the map meets legal requirements. They note that Maryland is an oddly shaped state, which they say makes it difficult to draw districts that are more standard.

Opponents say the map unfairly splits African-American neighborhoods to bolster the chances of incumbents. And they say it is designed to deny Republicans a seat in Congress by squeezing tens of thousands of registered Democrats into a traditionally conservative Western Maryland district.

Question 6 — Voters will decide whether to uphold the new law legalizing same-sex marriage. The law stipulates that religious institutions such as churches, synagogues and mosques would not have to perform marriage ceremonies that violate their faith.

The ballot question would not change the current public accommodations law, under which religious institutions that offer public charitable services — such as soup kitchens — cannot deny a gay couple.

Supporters say that gay couples should have the same rights as straight couples, and point to a long list of legal benefits that accompany marriage.

Opponents say that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

Question 7 — Voters will determine if the state should add a sixth casino (to be located in Prince George's County), allow table games like poker at all sites and increase the permitted number of slot machines in Maryland from 15,000 to 16,500. If voters in Prince George's County reject the measure, the additional casino would not be built, but the other two parts of the law would go forward.

If the additional casino is built, some existing casinos would pay a lower tax rate on their profits as compensation for the new competition. Overall, the changes would bring the state an additional $100 million a year in tax revenue by 2019, according to an independent state analysis.

Supporters say the new casino would create jobs and tax revenues. They say that adding table games would make Maryland's gambling venues more competitive with those in surrounding states.

Opponents say the additional site would saturate the casino market and reduce profits at current sites. Vegas-style table games, they say, would draw young people who are most at-risk for gambling addition.

Annie Linskey

On the Ballot

Candidates for Congress from Maryland


Sen. Ben Cardin, the Democratic incumbent and the state's junior senator, is seeking a second term.

Dean Ahmad, Libertarian

Daniel John Bongino, Republican

Ben Cardin, Democrat

Rob Sobhani, Independent


1st District

The 1st District was a political bellwether in the past two elections but was redrawn by the Maryland General Assembly last year and is now more solidly Republican. The district includes the Eastern Shore and portions of Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties. The incumbent is Rep. Andy Harris, a Cockeysville Republican.

Muir Wayne Boda, Libertarian

Andy Harris, Republican

John LaFerla, Write-in candidate supported by the Democratic Party

(Note: Democrat Wendy Rosen withdrew amid allegations she had voted in two states during the same elections. Her name remains on the ballot.)

2nd District

The oddly shaped 2nd District is home to the state's largest military installations, Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground. It has traditionally been considered safe for Democrats. The incumbent is Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Cockeysville Democrat.

Leo Wayne Dymowski, Independent

Nancy C. Jacobs, Republican

C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Democrat

Mark Shell, Green

3rd District

The meandering 3rd District runs from the Washington suburbs of Montgomery County up to central Baltimore County. It has generally been considered a safe Democratic seat. The incumbent is Rep. John Sarbanes, a Towson Democrat.

Paul W. Drgos Jr., Libertarian

Eric Delano Knowles, Republican

John P. Sarbanes, Democrat

4th District

Previously centered exclusively in Washington's suburbs, the 4th District now includes portions of more conservative Anne Arundel County. But the 4th still leans Democratic even after redistricting. The incumbent is Rep. Donna Edwards, an Oxon Hill Democrat.

Donna F. Edwards, Democrat

Faith Loudon, Republican

Scott Soffen, Libertarian

5th District

The Southern Maryland District has been a Democratic stronghold for years and did not change significantly in the redistricting. The incumbent is Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Mechanicsville Democrat and the House Minority Whip.

Bob S. Auerbach, Green

Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat

Tony O'Donnell, Republican

Arvin Vohra, Libertarian

6th District

Maryland's marquee race in 2012, the 6th District is drawing national attention after its boundaries were redrawn to make it more attractive for Democrats. The incumbent is Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Frederick County Republican.

Roscoe G. Bartlett, Republican

John Delaney, Democrat

Nickolaus Mueller, Libertarian

7th District

The 7th includes a large portion of Baltimore City as well as portions of Baltimore and Howard counties. It has a been a reliably Democratic seat for years. The incumbent is Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat.

Elijah Cummings, Democrat

Frank C. Mirabile, Republican

Ronald M. Owens-Bey, Libertarian

8th District

Previously centered on Montgomery County, the new 8th District now includes large swaths of Frederick and Carroll counties. The incumbent is Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Kensington Democrat.

George Gluck, Green

Mark Grannis, Libertarian

Chris Van Hollen, Democrat

Ken Timmerman, Republican

—John Fritze

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