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Democrats see surge in absentee ballots as evidence of 'blue wave' in Maryland

Despite polls showing their gubernatorial candidate trailing Gov. Larry Hogan by double digits, Maryland Democrats say a surge in absentee ballot requests shows a “blue wave” is coming on Election Day in November.

So far this year, Democrats have requested about 20,000 more absentee ballots than Republicans and unaffiliated voters — a statistic the party and the campaign of its gubernatorial candidate, Ben Jealous, touted Thursday in a conference call with reporters.

“The surge in absentee ballot requests is being driven by women voters, new voters, and Marylanders who did not vote in 2014 who are eager for Ben’s bold, courageous vision for Maryland,” said Maryland Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathleen Matthews.

According to the Maryland State Board of Elections, there have been 70,374 absentee ballot requests made through Tuesday, with 65 percent from registered Democratic voters. Democrats say that’s double the requests by their party’s members four years ago.

Democrats emphasized that 53 percent of the ballot requests were from voters who did not cast ballots in 2014.

"The huge surge in Democrats requesting absentee ballots matches the excitement I see on the campaign trail every day," Jealous, the former NAACP president, said in a statement.

Although Democrats are requesting more ballots, Hogan’s campaign manager, Jim Barnett, they haven’t been returning them at the same rate.

“Absentee ballot requests actually do not matter,” Barnett said in an email. “What matters is absentee ballot returns — these are actual votes cast. By that measure, the Democrat share has fallen dramatically from 2014 at this same point in time. In 2014, Democratic share of returns was 75 percent. This year, it is only 58 percent.”

Absentee ballots must be mailed by Election Day, Nov. 6.

Moreover, Barnett argued, Hogan has been faring well with registered Democrats in polls — which indicate he would get around 35 percent of their votes.

“By either measure — requests or returns — the news is good for Gov. Hogan,” Barnett wrote.

Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St Mary’s College, dismissed the importance of the numbers. He noted a similar surge in Democratic absentee ballot requests in some battleground states in the 2016 presidential election that gave supporters of Hillary Clinton false hopes that she would capture those states.

“They were mobilizing people who would have voted anyway, not generating new voters,” he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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