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Name recognition: Carroll County incumbents make most of their advantage

The two current board members have a large lead in the Carroll County Board of Education race. The sitting judge retained his seat on the Carroll County Circuit Court bench. Each of the congressman who represent parts of Carroll earned new terms.

Election Day turned into a big night for the incumbents, which is not much of a surprise when it comes to local politics.

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Matthew Mongiello, political science professor at McDaniel College, noted factors like name recognition, particularly in races without party affiliation, that can give incumbents an advantage.

The current school board members, President Donna Sivigny and Vice President Marsha Herbert, have earned 29.8% and 28.4% of the vote, putting them well ahead of challengers Virginia Harrison (22.1%) and Stephanie Brooks (18.9%) in the race for two board seats, with all early voting and Election Day ballots counted and approximately two-thirds of mail-in ballots counted.

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Judge Richard R. Titus, the incumbent, defeated challenger Laura Morton by securing 64.9% of the vote so far in the Circuit Court judge race.

And U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-District 1, and U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-District 8, handily won reelection to Congress.

Local politicians, from left, Maryland State Del. Haven Shoemaker, Judge Richard Titus, Congressman Andy Harris and Board of Education member Donna Sivigny gather for the opening of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee headquarters, in Finksburg, on Sept. 12.
Local politicians, from left, Maryland State Del. Haven Shoemaker, Judge Richard Titus, Congressman Andy Harris and Board of Education member Donna Sivigny gather for the opening of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee headquarters, in Finksburg, on Sept. 12. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

Mongiello said incumbents' performance in national elections has declined a bit. People usually vote along party lines, he said, although there are cases like Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who retained her seat in Maine this election despite the fact that the state voted for Democrat Joe Biden over incumbent Republican Donald Trump in the presidential race.

When it comes to local, nonpartisan elections, Mongiello said, voters don’t have party affiliation to base their vote upon.

“It’s really difficult for voters to decide,” he said. “What the incumbency does then is [give] name recognition.”

He said that is why candidates put up so many signs. In cases where voters do not know much about the candidate, “being at the top of ballot give candidates an enormous advantage.”

Mongiello said it’s harder for voters to obtain information on nonpartisan candidates. He has an eighth-grader in the school system, which is why he started watching school board meetings online.

“So I knew two of the candidates,” he said. “Frankly, the two I wanted to vote against weren’t up for reelection.”

However, during his research, he realized the school board candidates “sounded almost identical.” Mongiello said they all supported the same issues like “resources for students with disabilities" and "mindfulness in schools.”

Titus earned 51,748 votes to defeat challenger Laura Morton, who had 27,839. Those results include all ballots cast on Election Day and during the eight-day early voting period as well as the mail-in ballots that had been counted by late Tuesday. Election Director Katherine Berry said some 13,000 mail-in ballots had yet to be counted.

Judge Richard Titus campaigns through steady rain outside the Westminster Senior and Community Center during early voting, Oct. 29, 2020.
Judge Richard Titus campaigns through steady rain outside the Westminster Senior and Community Center during early voting, Oct. 29, 2020. (Dylan Slagle)

Morton said she knew running against an incumbent would be difficult but she said it was important to run anyway, especially after Titus was reappointed to the bench after losing an election in 2018. It “was not what should have been done,” Morton said.

The attorney said she has no regrets about the campaign. She is not yet sure if she will run again, but in the meantime, she will continue running her practice.

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The school board race is not officially over.

Sivigny had accumulated 38,504 votes and Herbert 36,548 while former board member Harrison had 28,393 and first-time candidate Brooks had 24,382. Election Director Katherine Berry estimated that some 13,000 mail-in ballots had yet to be counted. That could bode well for Harrison, who has received more mail-in votes than either of the incumbents, but didn’t do nearly as well with in-person voters.

“There are still a lot of votes out there,” Herbert said. “Hopefully Donna and I can hold on.”

Herbert, who was elected to the board in 2016, said she and Sivigny have accomplished a lot with the school system’s strategic plan during their tenure on the board. She said they also played a part in renovating the Career and Technology Center renovated and revitalized and they are working on East Middle School.

If elected, goals for her next term would be to make up for the learning loss for students as well as addressing the negative mental, emotional and social effects virtual learning had on students. “We really have to pick up the pace on that,” she said Wednesday.

Brooks said Tuesday night she was not surprised by the results, but thought getting as many votes as she did “says a lot for me.”

She noted that there might still be an opportunity given all the mail-in ballots yet to be counted, but said it’s good to get her name out there regardless of the outcome.

“This is what you have to do," she said. "You may not get it the first time, you may not get it the second time, but it’s what you do.”

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