Although Maryland Democrats want to present a unified front into this year’s general election, some Prince George’s County voters aren’t feeling the love.
A petition started by Wala Blegay, a candidate who came in fourth place in the June 26 Democratic primary as a delegate to represent the 25th legislative district, said some county voters have been deceived by sample ballots marked as “official.”
For instance, some Democrats in the southern part of Prince George’s received paraphernalia headlined “Official District 27 Democratic Primary Sample Ballot.” It requested voters choose candidates such as Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III for governor; re-elect Susie Proctor as state delegate; and elect county council members Mel Franklin and Karen Toles for the council’s new two at-large seats.
Blegay said an interview some voters brought those mailers to the ballot box as a way to bubble in those choices. She said literature in the 2014 gubernatorial election didn’t use the word “official.”
Blegay said the petition will be presented to the county’s Democratic Central Committee at its meeting Tuesday, July 24 to outlaw the word “official” on campaign literature and formally declare mailers from a certain group of candidates didn’t come from the county or state Democratic party.
In addition, a plan will be to work with state lawmakers to introduce legislation when the Maryland General Assembly reconvenes in January to ensure the word “official” never gets used on campaign literature.
The committee, which announced at a county executive forum in May it doesn’t endorse candidates, will hold a unity rally on July 18 at the county’s Education Association headquarters in Forestville that will feature Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) and state Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathleen Matthews.
“It was deceptive,” Blegay said in an interview regarding this year’s campaign fliers. “This is not about losing an election. This is about caring for the community and making sure elections are ran fairly.”
Tamara Davis Brown, who ran in a close race for the County Council District 9 seat, supports the petition because it challenges the county’s political establishment. A picture of her opponent and top vote-getter Sydney Harrison is featured on the District 27 mailer.
“These official sample ballots are almost taking as gospel … and dictates who you should vote for,” Davis Brown said. “You still have a portion of the electorate who have not been educated and do not do their homework … to who all the candidates are and follow the campaign machine.”
A notice on the literature sent to voters in the 27th legislative district highlights several campaigns that paid and authorized them such as Hoyer, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) and “Prince George’s Committee to Elect the Sitting Judges Slate.”
Annaliese Davis, spokeswoman for Hoyer for Congress, said in a statement Monday, July 9 the campaign knows about the petition.
“Congressman Hoyer was included on a number of sample ballots throughout the 5th District and believes that the Democratic Party in our state must be fair to all,” Davis said. “Congressman Hoyer remains committed to helping elect strong Democrats in Maryland and across the nation.”
In addition to the campaign literatured, the county mailed official sample ballots to voters for them to see which candidates are running for a particular federal, state and county office. Some residents fill out the ballots at home and use them as a guide when they come to the polls.
Scott Goldberg, secretary for the Montgomery County Central Committee, distributed a letter dated June 18 to remind campaigns and voters that the committee doesn’t endorse any candidates or produce sample ballots during the primary election.
Goldberg doesn’t believe literature which uses the phrase “official ballot” would be marked as illegal or trademarked, but said no group or organization “should purport to be putting out an official Democratic ballot.”
“We are happy to let the voters sort out which candidates should be voted into the general election,” he said in an interview Friday, July 6.
As of Monday, about 460 signatures are on the petition. Once it reaches 500, a letter along with the signatures will be sent to Matthews.
Those who signed the petition are not only Prince George’s residents, but also those who reside in neighboring Montgomery and Charles counties.
James Hugh Jones II of Baltimore City, one of nine people who ran in the Democratic primary for governor, signed the petition Friday.
“Many voters were tricked into believing the certain candidates were no longer Democrats, no longer running, or running for different positions,” the petition said. “The party should not be involved in purposely confusing Democratic voters. It is time for this practice to end.”