Will this year's census result in a historic undercount?
The coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. in the middle of primary season. Maryland, D.C. and Virginia are now navigating how to hold elections. WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle, Maryland Matters’s Danielle Gaines and The Washington Post’s Jenna Portnoy join The Politics Hour to explain what, exactly, is happening with elections throughout the region. Plus, we hear from the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato about how this could impact national politics, including the presidential election.
An Update On D.C. Council Races
- This week, the ACLU of D.C. hosted forums for Ward 2 and Ward 4 candidates on Zoom. As Washington City Paper’s Mitch Ryals reports, Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd did not attend because he had a “competing commitment.” But the councilmember did provide Ryals with his answers to most of the questions asked at the forum.
- On The Politics Hour, WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle said that while Todd is known for constituent services, his absence during the campaign might be giving his main opponent, Janeese Lewis George, a boost. Auestermuhle explains: “He just hasn’t been responding to questionnaires from different groups. He hasn’t been appearing at events and things of that nature. And people are starting to say, ‘Where is Councilmember Todd?'”
- ACLU of D.C. will be hosting candidate forums for Wards 7 and 8 on May 6. You can learn more and register for those forums here.
- Proponents of an effort to reduce penalties for possession and use of psychedelic mushrooms say they’ll continue to gather signatures by mail to get the issue on the ballot for the general election in November, reports Austermuhle.
- “The virus is a friend of incumbents,” said resident analyst Tom Sherwood on The Politics Hour, explaining that social distancing hampers the ability of lesser-known candidates to meet constituents and gain more name recognition.
D.C. Encourages Residents To Vote By Mail
- D.C. is keeping its June 2 primary date. Officials in the District are encouraging residents to request their ballots to vote by mail, as Austermuhle reports.
- District residents can request absentee ballots online or through the election board’s app.
- D.C. will also limit the number of in-person polling places, narrowing down the 144 precincts down to 20 voting centers.
- “The issue is: Who’s going to vote?” Sherwood asked on The Politics Hour. “My concern is that thousands and thousands of people who are not even internet savvy or don’t even understand the process are not going to even get a ballot, much less return one.”
Maryland Delays Its April 28 Primary, But Not Its Special Election
- Maryland Governor Larry Hogan delayed the state’s April 28 primary election until June 2.
- But the special election to fill the late Rep. Elijah Cumming’s seat is still scheduled for April 28, and the state wants to hold the election mostly by mail, and the state is holding the election largely by mail. Ballots were sent out recently to all registered voters in Maryland’s 7th Congressional district, and they need to be postmarked or dropped off by April 28. Three voting locations will be open on election day for limited in-person voting.
- Maryland Matters’ Danielle Gaines reported on the State Board of Elections back-and-forth decision-making process: The Board initially wanted the special election to be mail-only, but received pushback from Hogan, advocates and legislators who feared that no in-person options could disenfranchise voters. The board ultimately decided to open three in-person voting centers for the district.
- “There’s going to be a really quick turnaround between figuring out policies that work next week and trying to make them better by June,” Gaines said on The Politics Hour.
Virginia Delays June Primary Elections, But Not May Local Elections
- Virginia Governor Ralph Northam delayed primary elections set for June 9 until June 23.
- The Washington Post’s Jenna Portnoy reports that this delay will give Republican candidates running to challenge Reps. Elaine Luria (D) and Abigail Spanberger (D) more time to compete for their party’s nomination. Luria and Spanberger both unseated Republicans in 2018, and both their Districts went for President Trump in 2016.
- Northam wanted to postpone local elections to November 3, but the state Senate blocked this move during a special session this week.
- The governor hasn’t ordered that polling places be closed, but he is encouraging residents to cast ballots by mail. Virginia currently requires that voters have an excuse to vote by absentee ballot, but the Virginia Department of Elections says that the coronavirus pandemic qualifies as an excuse.
The Impact Of Coronavirus On National Races
- The coronavirus pandemic is changing the ways that candidates across the country are campaigning.
- When it comes to the presidential election: A financial recession from the coronavirus could doom Trump’s reelection chances, explains Alan Abramowitz on Sabato’s Crystal Ball.
- Then, there’s the question of if the presidential election could be delayed.
- On The Politics Hour, the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics director Larry Sabato said he hopes that more states adopt all-mail balloting. “And all of this nonsense about it being hackable and it’s inaccurate and people steal votes and it only helps Democrats — just nonsense, absolute nonsense,” Sabato said.
- But Sabato thinks the country isn’t ready for online voting. “A lot is going to have to be developed to increase security before I would be happy with that,” Sabato said.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
- Martin Austermuhle Politics reporter, WAMU; @maustermuhle
- Larry Sabato Director of the Center for Politics, University of Virginia; @LarrySabato
- Danielle Gaines Reporter, Maryland Matters; @DanielleEGaines
- Jenna Portnoy Regional Politics Reporter, The Washington Post; @jennaportnoy
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour, starring Tom Sherwood he's broadcasting from home, I'm Kojo Nnamdi so am I. Well, today the conversation is all about upcoming elections in this region, the District, Maryland and Virginia. So, if you've got questions or comments about elections here then we have the people who can answer those questions. You can start calling now. Our in house expert, our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper is Tom Sherwood. Tom, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODHello, everyone.
NNAMDIAnd later in the broadcast we'll be talking with Larry Sabato, the Director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. Jenna Portnoy, Regional Politics Reporter for The Washington Post. And Danielle Gaines, Reporter for Maryland Matters. But we're taking your calls from right now if you're calling about any upcoming election. Joining us now is Martin Austermuhle. He a Politics Reporter for WAMU. Martin, thank you for joining us.
MARTIN AUSTERMUHLEThanks for having me, Kojo. I appreciate it.
NNAMDIMartin, politics seem to have taken a backseat during the Coronavirus, but D.C. is still scheduled to have its primary in June. Can you remind us what will be on the ballot?
AUSTERMUHLERight. So it's going to be lots of local seats. I mean, there's Ward based on the D.C. Council. Ward 2 is up. Ward 4 is up. Wards 7 and 8 are up. There's also the presidential primary at this point. It doesn't seem like there's going to be a whole lot of competition there, but still it's on the ballot. The U.S. Delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, is going to be on, a shadow Senator and a shadow Representative. So it's a fairly wide range of seats that are going to be up for the primary.
NNAMDIThis week the ACLU for D.C. hosted virtual forums for candidates in Ward 2 and 4 focusing on criminal justice. I know Tom Sherwood watched Ward 2. I watched Ward 4, but you probably watched them both. So let's start with Ward 2, which is a crowded race. Who are the candidates to watch?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, I mean, that's a really tough one. Now, obviously, Jack Evans, who resigned his seat in January before he could be expelled by his colleagues for ethical misconduct, he's running to take back his seat. He's running against -- it's a relative crowded field. Tom could probably remind me if it's seven or eight challengers, but it's a lot of people. It's all over the place. At this point the numbers would tell you that Jack Evans could squeak by, because there's a pretty divided field of challengers against him and people know who he is. And he's been on something of an apology tour. He published a letter -- I think it was in the Georgetown or another local publication essentially saying, I broke the rules. I'm sorry. Give me another chance.
SHERWOODThat's right. There are seven challengers wanting to take over the seat from Jack Evans. But this is a weird campaign in that people cannot go door knocking. They can't have meet and greets. I've talked to several of the candidates about how they're trying to online get people to know them. Well, people do know Jack Evans. And while many people active know all the ethics issue he has, he's been in that seat for 30 something years or close to 30 years. And there are a lot people who know him and didn't like what he did, but still like him and given the financial crisis that the District is in like every other jurisdiction, they think he has the knowledge to play a role on the Council should he get back on. But it's in a very aggressive race. Patrick Kennedy is an ANC, a longtime ANC member, who's gotten a lot of support. It's a wide open race at this point.
NNAMDIMartin Austermuhle in the -- by the way Tom Sherwood, you wanted the Ward 2 candidates forum. Anything stand out in particular to you?
SHERWOODWell, I actually listened to it more than I watched it. After a while I get tired of looking at the screen. But, you know, I thought that Evans, because there was not a live crowd that heckled him like we did at the Logan Circle and Dupont Circle association that we monitored that there was no one to heckle Jack Evans. And he was able to speak freely and on time about the issues. But all the candidates acquitted themselves well. The problem was only about 180 people I think signed on to the online debate, so not a lot of people heard them.
NNAMDIWell, the reason there were no hecklers at the debate that Tom Sherwood and I moderated was because of, well, Tom Sherwood. Shall I say anything more? Martin, in the Ward 4 forum one big guest was absent. The current Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd. What should we know about the Ward 4 race?
AUSTERMUHLEIt's competitive. It's interesting. I mean, Brandon Todd, he took over for Muriel Bowser who is now the Mayor of the District of Columbia. He's a close ally of the mayor's. Some would say he basically never breaks with the mayor. He's the mayor's go-to person on the Council probably one of the only remaining, generally speaking I'd say well-liked, has raised a lot of money, is known across the ward as a constituent services sort of guy. He's the sort of guy that will get the potholes filled and the trash picked up and that sort of stuff.
AUSTERMUHLEBut he's also been criticized for his lack of substance on legislative issues, that he's not addressing things like an uptake in crime and that sort of stuff, and now during the course of this campaign he's been to a certain degree absentee. Now, of course, everything has changed because nothing is being done in person. But, I mean, he just hasn't been responding to questionnaires from different groups. He hasn't been appearing at events and things of that nature. And people are starting to say like, "Where is Councilmember Todd?"
AUSTERMUHLEAnd that's giving Janeese Lewis George, one of his main competitors a boast. And she's got a chunk of money from the Public Financing Program the District is running. She just released an online kind of TV ad of sorts this week that kind of told her story in glowing in terms. So I'd say she's a pretty strong competitor at this point.
NNAMDIWell, I live in Ward 4 and Brandon Todd was the constituent services director for Muriel Bowser when she was the councilmember here. And he does have a reputation for delivering on constituents services. One remembers a prior councilmember, who had that same reputation. A guy named Adrian Fenty who went on to become mayor and then kind of disappeared and could not win reelection. But I watched the Ward 4 forum the other night and Brandon Todd's absence was glaring.
NNAMDIAs a result, the other two candidates really didn't have anybody that they could really point a finger at and critique in any way. And I think that took something away from the interest in the Ward 4 forum itself. We'll have to see how it will go one. But, of course, Brandon Todd has raised quite a bit of money, Tom Sherwood, and that could be one of the reasons why he may not feel the necessity to participate in these forums. But meanwhile Janeese Lewis George has had -- and we talked about this briefly last week about all of the signs that were stolen -- that were taken from her by of all places the Department of Public Works. Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODThat's true. That's been a spat within this campaign. I want to point out about Brandon Todd not attending forums or the most recent one. You know, that's the playbook that Muriel Bowser had. Remember when she ran for mayor a second time and David Catania was the candidate against her. You know, she just declined to appear in a bunch of forums. And, you know, if you're the incumbent if you have the mailing list and the email list of thousands of people that you've helped or at least corresponded with over a period of time, why do you want to go somewhere and give your opponents a chance to take potshots at you. So this is not -- it's a strategy by Brandon Todd to say, lLook, I'm going to focus on the people who know me in my ward and that's all I'm going to care about to get through this election.
NNAMDIMartin Austermuhle, Ward 7 Councilmember and former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is facing challenges for his seat. Any chance he could be unseated?
AUSTERMUHLEAgain, Ward 7 is a tough. I mean, it's an active campaign. I would never say that there isn't a chance that an incumbent can't be beat, because it's happened in the past. But at the same time it's a divided field that's running against the councilmember. He generally speaking -- I mean, at least his campaign will say that he's polling while he's still popular in the ward. He's still out and about. He's well known. And, yeah, I think -- and Tom can speak to this too. I just feel like this pandemic has upended everything.
AUSTERMUHLEI mean, at the end of the day so much of these campaigns is that face to face interaction, the knocking on the doors, the going to events, the handing out flyers especially as the weather warms up. I mean, that's bread and butter of local campaigning, and right now everything is happening via Zoom. And look, we all love Zoom for its flexibility and it being just there for you to use on your phone or your computer. But at the same time it has technical problems. It's kind of awkward and it's not really a good way to convince an undecided voter that they should vote for you.
NNAMDITrying to unseat Vincent Gray are Kelvin Brown, Anthony Lorenzo Green, Veda Rasheed and James Jennings. Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODYes. I'm sorry. I was taking note there just when you tossed it to me. I want to point out to all the incumbents the virus is a friend of incumbents, because again it hampers all the candidates, who are trying to unseat. And I think you asked me about Ward 8. I apologize. I got distracted for a moment.
NNAMDIWell, no. We haven't gotten to Ward 8 yet. We were just talked about Ward 7. I knew that the councilmember, who preceded Vincent Gray, Yvette Alexander, at one point I thought she was thinking of running again, but that's out the door, isn't it?
SHERWOODYes. That's right. She did not run. You know, Vince Gray has, you know, he served as mayor. He was Council Chairman. He was on the Council. He's on the Council now. It's very difficult in what I would call a normal election to unseat an incumbent. And as Martin just said it has been done, but it has not been done very often.
NNAMDIMartin, Trayon White, the Ward 8 councilmember is also facing challenges. What's happening there?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, I think it's one of the most fascinating races to watch. Generally speaking Ward 8 politics is seemingly a minefield. I mean, it just -- alliances come and go. Like people, who once worked together no longer work together. And that's the case now. I mean, Trayon White is being challenged by people who used to work with him, who campaigned with him, who led his campaigns. But Trayon White is also -- he is, I think Mitch Riles from the City Paper wrote it well this week when he said he's basically campaigning via Instagram and Facebook. He is very active on social media.
AUSTERMUHLEHe's out and about in the community. He's giving out food as part of Mutual Aid Efforts, like he's very much doing the work of councilmember. But he's putting it out there over social media in a way that none of his challenges can compete against. And that's going to be a tough one again. I mean, you see this guy out and about as much as he is and his challengers are just trying to get their names out there.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, now we're on Ward 8.
SHERWOODOkay. Well, yes, we're on Ward 8, but I want to move on.
NNAMDIGood. Good. Then let's move on.
SHERWOODBut the issue is who's going to vote. I am very worried. I called into the mayor's press conference Thursday, yesterday, because I have been looking at the plans for people to vote. It's hard enough to get people to vote. But in this case with the virus backdrop the mayor in the city is encouraging everyone to vote absentee. In order to do that, you must request a ballot. The city is not for a variety of reasons simply sending a ballot to registered voters. You one have to request a ballot. Two the Board of Elections has to send you the ballot. Three you have to fill out the ballot. And four you have to return the ballot by the deadline of Election Day.
SHERWOODMy concern is that that thousands and thousands of people who are not either internet savvy or don't even understand the process are not going to even get a ballot much less return one. I'd like to hear Martin from this. I did talk to Tommy Wells. He's the former Ward 6 councilmember, but has been the director of Environment and Energy for Mayor Bowser. Mayor Bowser put him in charge of a committee to help the Board of Elections, an independent agency, make certain that it's ready to go. But just this week the Board of Elections put out on Tweeter a notice that it was having problems sending email notices to people that they are in fact registered to get a ballot.
SHERWOODAnd there has been no publicity campaign yet. Councilmember Charles Allen who oversees the Board of Elections says they're not doing a publicity campaign yet. Will do one in May once they have all the kinks worked out in the election process, but I'm just concerned in the weeks ahead people are not going to know either to get an absentee ballot or how to get a ballot.
NNAMDIIndeed we are in a situation that is very confusing and having heard Tom Sherwood describe it confusing to just about everyone. We'll have to see how that is working out. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we look at Maryland. But first Martin Austermuhle will tell us about a measure having to do with magic mushrooms. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to the Politics Hour. We're talking about elections coming up in this region in the District, Maryland and Virginia, and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. We'll also talk with Martin Austermuhle who's a Politics Reporter for WAMU. Before we move on to Maryland Martin Austermuhle among the ballot measures is one having to do with magic mushrooms. Tell us about that.
AUSTERMUHLEYeah. So it's a ballot measure ...
NNAMDIIn D.C. that is.
AUSTERMUHLEIt's in the District. It's a ballot measure that if passed by voters it would basically lower the level of kind of enforcement that police does of use and possession of both magic mushrooms and psychedelic plants. This is being backed by the same group of folks that legalized marijuana at the ballot box in 2014. They got approval to start circulating petitions back in February. And the process is they have to collect signatures from five percent of the city's registered voters. That's about 25,000 voters. Now imagine. They get the permission to move forward in February. Basically two weeks later the pandemic hits and they have to call everything off because there's nothing worse than -- I mean, there's no worse idea than circulating petitions going door to door handing people a pen that other people are using to sign petitions in the middle of a pandemic. So they're kind of stuck now. And they had their petitions in hand. They have six months to gather these signatures they want to get on the November ballot. But they have no means to collect tens of thousands of signatures. So they've been -- they say they're now going to mail petitions to voters through the District.
AUSTERMUHLESo you may suddenly get something in the mail asking to sign a petition for this ballot initiative. They've asked the City Council to do something about it. I mean, they got stuck in pretty back situation that there's just not much that can be done quickly to address the fact that the normal way of gathering signatures has just been thrown out the window. And there's not an alternative in place.
NNAMDITime for the mushrooms to produce some magic. Joining us now is Danielle Gaines, a Reporter for Maryland Matters. Danielle, thank you so much for joining us.
DANIELLE GAINESHi, Kojo. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIDanielle, the first election coming up during this public health crisis is in Maryland, April 28th. That's the special election to fill the late Congressman Elijah Cummings' seat in the 7th District. How is the state handling that election, given stay-at-home orders and social distancing?
GAINESThat election is going to be handled largely by mail, and it's already ongoing, actually. So, ballots were sent out recently to about 484,000 residents in that district. 77,000 of them have been returned. Voters will have until Tuesday to return those ballots. The mail ballots need to be postmarked by Tuesday. So, people should pay close attention to when they're dropping off. There are drop-off locations available on Tuesday. And a very limited number of voters are going to be allowed to go to three voting locations in this state.
NNAMDIFormer U.S. Congressman Kweisi Nfume is the Democratic nominee for the special election. Is he expected to win next week?
GAINESHe is expected to win. It's a heavily Democratic district, four-to-one Democratic advantage in registration. No Republican has ever represented the district, but there is a Republican candidate, Kim Klassik, who is a member of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee.
NNAMDIAnd, Tom Sherwood, Kweisi Nfume is a well-known name, because he held the seat previously.
SHERWOODYes. He's a veteran politician. He ran the NAACP. There's been some criticism about that and how he left that organization. But he was a veteran member of Congress. He's well-liked, mostly, by the public. So, that will play well for him in this election. I would like to ask Danielle, though, Maryland just mailed out the ballots, and people need to mail them back in. But the response rate is still pretty low, at this point. Do they expect just a sea, a flood of ballots as we get next to Election Day, next week?
GAINESI don't know. But the state board has adopted policies to kind of help the local offices if they do, you know, start seeing tens of thousands of ballots arriving in a single day. They've kind of loosened some policies about how the ballots have to be stamped as they come in. And instead, they need to be archived in special bins and stuff like that, just to try to help them, you know, handle this. And it's really three county boards of elections that are the testing grounds for this on next Tuesday. And then, in June, the whole state will be undergoing it. So, there's going to be a really quick turnaround between, you know, figuring out policies that work next week and trying to make them better by June.
SHERWOODOne of the questions I have, that's Howard County, Baltimore County and Baltimore City. But for those in the media and people who want to know, on election night, are we going to know who won, or would there be -- because they'll have to count ballots that come in on Election Day, I would guess. So, will we know the results election night?
GAINESDefinitely not the full results. But the state has changed a policy to allow local boards of elections to start processing ballots before Election Day. And any results that are processed before Election Day have to -- the results will be embargoed until that night. So, on election night, we may see some initial numbers from these districts. So far, about 16 percent of ballots have been returned in the 7th District.
NNAMDIDanielle, Maryland has delayed its regular primary until June 2nd. What decisions have been made about that election?
GAINESSo, the June 2nd primary is also going to be largely by mail. People are being encouraged to vote by mail. Every active, registered voter is going to get a ballot in the mail. It will be postage prepaid. So, you need to fill it out, send it back. Counties are going to have collection sites. The state is in the process of creating some heavy-duty security bins where ballot drop-off will be available. And then, again, on June 2nd there will be a very limited number of places where people can go and vote in person, if they can't vote by mail for one reason or another. If they didn't receive a ballot, or if they have a disability, where they would be helped by using a ballot--marking device in person. And each county will have between one and four voting centers on Election Day.
NNAMDIOkay. Let's get back into D.C. for a minute, because we have a call from one Jordan Grossman, who happens to be a candidate in Ward 2. Jordan Grossman, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JORDAN GROSSMANWell, thank you. I just wanted to say in response to your discussion, we've actually spoken to thousands of Ward 2 voters since the Coronavirus pandemic. And we hear over and over again that people want a clean break from Jack Evans and his corruption. And I also just wanted to note that we have broad support from many D.C. local leaders, like Councilmember Elissa Silverman. And just this week, we got endorsed by the D.C. Metro Labor Council that represents thousands of union members in D.C. So, we feel really strongly that we need a clean break from Jack Evans. And that's what Ward 2 is going to do in this election.
NNAMDIJordan Grossman using the royal "we." Martin Austermuhle, Patrick Kennedy, I think, might be ahead of Jordan Grossman, at least according to Patrick Kennedy's poll. But care to comment?
AUSTERMUHLEI mean, no. It's a fair point. I think obviously every campaign, at this point, is going to say, "Listen, we're out there. People want to break from Evans," which is I'm sure is very true for many voters. But at the end it only matters what happens on Election Day. And I think, again, I found it fascinating that a couple of months ago the Washington Post did a poll about the situation Evans was facing. And there was a huge amount of people that just didn't know what was going on, or barely knew who Evans was. And that's the dynamic of the race is that if you just don't pay attention to local politics this may be noise to you. So, when it comes to going on Election Day, you may look at the ballot and be, like, "Oh, yeah. That guy. I remember his name. I'll vote for him." So, the challenge is trying to get over that and trying to convince people, like, "Look, he did this. This was wrong. You should throw him out of office for these reasons."
NNAMDITom Sherwood, at least Jordan Grossman is listening. Does he get points for that?
SHERWOODOh, yes. Anyone who listens gets points, as long as they don't talk too much. I realize Jordan, though, I don't want him to talk about who's endorsing him or not, because we don't have the other candidates on. But I would ask him, he says he's contacting thousands of voters. How are you doing that? I know I looked at your finance campaign, and you have a lot of support moneywise. Most of it, though, is outside of Ward 2, and you're still getting yourself known in the ward. How are you reaching out to these voters? Are you doing mailings that I haven't seen yet, or phone calls? What are you doing?
GROSSMANYeah. Sort of all of the above. And, you know, we do have the most D.C. resident owners of any candidate in Ward 2, and we've had that throughout the campaign.
SHERWOODThat's citywide. Let's be clear that's citywide not Ward 2.
SHERWOODThat's a Kennedy asset.
GROSSMANIn terms of how we're reaching people, you know, we always just try to reach people where they are. So, we're texting them. We're calling them. We're mailing them. We're doing, as you said, the ACLU forums. I think I've done virtual events and forums every night this week. And so, you know, instead of meeting folks at the Metro or at their door, we're meeting folks on their phone and online and in their mailbox. But it's not stopping us from talking to voters about what they need. And, you know, what I hear is people want to make sure -- especially now more than ever, as we rebuild from the COVID crisis -- that they can afford to stay here in neighborhoods that they love, especially if they've lost their job or they're struggling with their rent. We need to make that the number-one focus, that we're going to focus on families and workers.
NNAMDIMartin Austermuhle, in the 30 seconds we have left, we got a tweet from Pat, "D.C. Board of Elections will not automatically provide absentee ballots to registered voters for the primary? You have to be kidding." Are we kidding?
AUSTERMUHLENo. That's what's going on. I mean, they said it was going to be too complicated to go full vote-by-mail, but Maryland is proving it's not. And I think Maryland is getting some credit from other states that already do vote-by-mail. The Director of Elections in Colorado said this week that he was really impressed that Maryland was literally just pulling the trigger and just trying it.
NNAMDIIn other words, Pat, we're not kidding. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be talking Virginia politics. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking regional elections with Tom Sherwood, our Resident Analyst. Martin Austermuhle is a Politics Reporter for WAMU. Danielle Gaines is a Reporter for Maryland Matters. And we're talking your calls as we move in to discussing Virginia politics at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Elise, who says: I've been a D.C. voter for 12 years now. Just this morning, I changed my party affiliation so I could vote for Janeese against Brandon Todd, since I don't like how he blindly supports the mayor. I was a statehood Green Party member. And Doug tweets: there's going to be a lot of improvising between now and November. Hopefully, do it sooner rather than later, so you can fight the court battles now. Joining us now is Jenna Portnoy, a regional politics reporter for the Washington Post. Jenna, thank you for joining us.
JENNA PORTNOYThanks for having me.
NNAMDIJenna, Virginia's primary elections were originally scheduled for June 9th, and Governor Ralph Northam delayed them by two weeks until June 23rd. What are the big races on that ballot?
PORTNOYThat's right. Some of these unprecedented changes in elections affect some of the most competitive races in the state. So, in addition to the June 9th primary that will not be June 23rd, there's been a big change to conventions. So, instead of happening tomorrow, a couple of Republican conventions have until July 28th to pick their candidate.
PORTNOYIn terms of the primary, Elaine Luria is the incumbent down in Virginia Beach. And there are quite a few Republicans vying for her seat including Scott Taylor, a former Navy SEAL, who previously held the seat. She defeated him in a district won by President Trump. So, that'll be very competitive.
PORTNOYThe other most competitive race is in the Richmond suburbs, where incumbent Abigail Spanberger is defending her seat against a handful. I mean, there's at least a half dozen Republicans, including two sitting state delegates who want to challenge her. And their convention will be sometime in the next several months.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, what are you looking at there?
SHERWOODWell, I know that the governor -- we are keeping the primary date, but he -- and he encouraged people, or has encouraged or is encouraging people to vote by mail. But there's been no restriction on precincts to kind of force people to vote by mail. All the precincts will be open, as I understand it. Is that right, Jenna?
PORTNOYAbsolutely. I just actually posed the question to the Board of Elections to see if that's true. But at this point, as far as I understand, there's no changes proposed to the polling places. There's a lot of potential challenges there. You know, a lot of poll workers are volunteers. They're retired folks who may not be too keen on going to potentially crowded polling places in the middle of the summer. So, we'll see if that changes. But, at this point, all those polling places are open.
PORTNOYThey are encouraging people to vote by mail, but at this point, there are no plans to mass -- to send mass absentee ballots out unless, you know, folks apply for them on their own.
SHERWOODLet me ask you also about -- there are local city, county-level elections in May. The governor wanted to postpone those to November, throw out the ballots that had already been cast absentee and change that. But the Republicans in the legislature this week, and some Democrats, weren't comfortable with throwing out ballots. So, they have not changed the voting for May, which is coming right up. The governor is supposedly thinking about what he might do. Is there anything he can do without legislative support to delay the May elections?
PORTNOYAbsolutely. He has a couple of options. I mean, he can call a special session. Again, that would rely on the legislature passing that bill. Or he believes he can delay the election for two weeks. Now, a May election delayed for two weeks may not make much of a difference, as we're sort of at the height of this coronavirus pandemic. But you're right, that the legislature controlled by Democrats did effectively kill that bill just yesterday.
NNAMDIJenna, are there any elections in northern Virginia that are scheduled for that May 5th date?
PORTNOYFairfax City has a mayoral race that is relatively competitive. I talked to the mayor there, and he said, you know, he's really changing up the way he's campaigned. Instead of doing door-to-door, he's doing a lot of social media, a lot of virtual meetings. Direct mail has been a big strategy for him. So, we'll see what happens. Those elections tend to have such a low turnout because they're in smaller localities. It'll be interesting to see how this is affected.
NNAMDIHere's Rob in Alexandria, Virginia. Rob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROBYeah, hi, Kojo. Hey, Tom. Hey, thank you for allowing me to call in -- take my call. My question is, you know, I'm very happy with the gun control legislation that was signed in the Navy yard during the shooting back before I retired. And, you know, still have nightmares about that day. So, my question to your commentator is, do you foresee any backlash grassroots things that could cause trouble -- well, to me, it's trouble -- that could sweep back in a Republican majority into the politics of Virginia? Thank you.
PORTNOYSo far, we don't have any indication of that. There haven't been many polls yet. But, at this point, at least at the congressional level, you know, there are a couple competitive races. And we'll see what happens there. There've been a couple small protests outside the capital in Richmond when it comes to, you know, his social distancing measures and his emergency orders. But it appears, across the state, people are abiding by them, you know, generally.
NNAMDIJenna, Republican candidates for Congress are selected by convention instead of by primary. Can you explain how that process works? And will it change because of the pandemic?
PORTNOYSo, Virginia's really interesting in that respect. Depending on how the party decides they could nominate candidates by state-run primary or by party-run convention. So, in all these cases, the virus has given these candidates some more time to campaign, to woo their voters. Republicans see that, you know, as a positive. They have more time to get their message across. However, it doesn't give them as much time then to focus on the Democrat when it comes to the general election.
PORTNOYSo, in the primary down in Virginia Beach, you have Scott Taylor. You have Ben Loyola. They are locked in a pretty competitive race against -- hoping to vie against Congresswoman Luria. That'll be June 23rd. And then the convention for the Republican to compete against Spanberger was supposed to be held tomorrow. That certainly isn't happening.
PORTNOYIt was going to be in the Arthur Ashe Athletic Center. That's called off. They have until July 28th to figure out where to have that. They can't do it at the Arthur Ashe Center anymore, because it has no air conditioning. So, the whole process is thrown into unchartered territory here.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, we got this email from Todd in Virginia. I don't know if you've been following this. Why does nobody challenge President Trump's disinformation on vote by mail? Only one ballot per registered voter at each address? If a second ballot from that address with the same name is received, it would immediately raise a red flag for investigation. To be sure, absentee ballot harvesting -- as Republicans did in North Carolina in 2018 -- could facilitate fraud, but it's easy to prevent. Just provide prepaid return envelopes, like Washington state. Do you know anything about that at all, Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODWell, I know that everyone, because of the virus, are trying to figure out a way to get people to vote. And the District chose not to, because it just did not think it had the technical ability to just send out 400,000-plus ballots with return stamps on them. And so I think it's a problem. There's very little strong evidence of -- there's very little evidence of voter fraud in this country, but given the haphazard nature of this virus-disrupted campaign season, people are worried that the ballots will not be properly treated.
SHERWOODI do want to point out to Rob from, I think, Alexandria, who called in. One thing about the Republicans gaining any new foothold is there are no state legislative races, the House and the Senate. There are no races this year for the House and Senate. And if I could ask Jenna, the ghost campaign of this year really seems to be Mark Warner. Six years ago, he nearly -- he came within a fraction of losing to a Republican. But that race seems to be getting zero attention. Is it because he has not much strong opposition?
PORTNOYThat's a great question. I mean, I think he is seen as not nearly as vulnerable as he was last time around. Ed Gillespie mounted a very strong campaign against him. It was a great year for Republicans. It was certainly much closer than Senator Warner would've liked. But, this year, he seems to be getting, so far, a bit of a free pass.
PORTNOYYou know, Republicans are fielding quite a few candidates to try to challenge him, but there's no clear indication that he has reason to worry. Neither of the parties are targeting the race. And, you know, he's had such a high profile as vice chairman of the intelligence committee, I think that's really helped solidify some of his support.
NNAMDIGot another caller who is a candidate in Washington, D.C. I guess we all know the name of Ed Lazear. Ed Lazear, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ED LAZEARGreat. Thanks so much for having me on, Kojo. So, I heard you comment about the petition gathering process for ballot initiatives. And I wanted to be clear that there's also a big petition gathering challenge for people like me who are running as independent candidates, who have to gather signatures over the summer as well as anybody running for ANC or for state board of education. And those petitions are supposed to be gathered in June, July and submitted in early August. And that's just going to be impossible.
ED LAZEARAnd so I am urging the mayor and Council and sending a letter just today and putting it on my campaign website -- it's a bit of a crazy alternative, but we're in a crazy world -- that instead of gathering petitions, which is unsafe for everybody, that we just allow candidates to collect small-dollar donations, as little as $1, which many candidates are already doing under public financing, they're using small-dollar donations to get public financing, that we use that as a threshold of support, which is really the key issue in getting on the ballot and petitions is to show that you have some support. It's an existing mechanism that would allow people to get on the ballot while maintain safety at this really important time.
SHERWOODWould that expand the field of candidates? You're one. I think now there are 10, maybe 11 at-large candidates for the November election, for one of the two seats at large. Would your proposal just crowd the ballot, and maybe you'll have 20-something people like Montgomery County did for some of its at-large races?
LAZEARIt's a legitimate question. I actually don't think it will. I mean, I can tell you that getting donations is not an easy thing. And of the 12 people who are running, most of them are seeking public financing. Many of them haven't reached the threshold, which is 250 donors, yet. So, that's a sign to me that it's not easy, and that if anybody wants to jump in and run and think they can quickly get 250 donations, I don't really think that's true. So, I don't know that it would greatly expand the number of people running for office. And, certainly, that was not my goal.
SHERWOODYou're not on the ballot for -- may I -- quick question for Ed. You're not on the ballot, Ed, for the primary, but you are for the fall. Are you concerned at all that the Board of Elections is doing enough to educate people on how you get a ballot and vote?
LAZEARNo, no. I mean, you know, I just sent the letter yesterday, along with Janeese Lewis George and Jordan Grossman, you know, running in Ward 4 and Ward 2, to express our concerns that we don't know that they have a good enough plan to let people know how to get a ballot, and that they aren't starting soon enough. So, no, I'm very nervous that the June primary will also be compromised.
NNAMDIOkay. Ed Lazear, thank you for your call. Just quickly, Danielle Gaines, the Maryland General Assembly was supposed to reconvene in May for a special session. But is that still going to happen, given the pandemic?
GAINESNo, it's not. The General Assembly, as you know, (laugh) had to adjourn a couple of weeks early given the pandemic, and announced plans that they wanted to come back in late May, potentially to take up unfinished business, potentially to take up overrides of gubernatorial vetoes. Late May is not looking like a good time to meet, still, given the coronavirus. And it's unclear whether or not there will be a special session later in the year, or if the General Assembly will just take up these things come next January when they're scheduled to meet, anyhow.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. Larry Sabato, thank you for joining us.
LARRY SABATOI'm delighted to be with you.
NNAMDILarry Sabato, we got a tweet from Adam, who said: we need voting by mail and online now so that Trump and his cult can't steal this election. Larry Sabato, as more states move to using vote-by-mail systems during this pandemic, could you see it becoming a more permanent fixture in more state voting systems?
SABATOWell, I certainly hope so. Look, many of us have been advocating for all-mail balloting for many, many years. In fact, in my case, it's decades. (laugh) This made sense 30 years ago. It makes far more sense today, because of the pandemic. You know, I just re-tweeted an article that was produced by the Pew Trust. It was an original article by the Pew Trust, looking at localities that used vote-by-mail.
SABATOAnd what was interesting is, the headline was: “GOP-controlled counties love all-mail voting.” Quote, "It's safe and easy. People love it." And all of this nonsense about it being hackable and it's inaccurate and people steal votes and it only helps Democrats, just nonsense, absolute nonsense. Do facts matter anywhere, anymore? Do they? I wonder.
NNAMDIMartin Austermuhle, you reported on this, too, right? Oh, we seem to have lost Martin Austermuhle.
AUSTERMUHLENo, sorry about that, Kojo. I am here.
AUSTERMUHLENo, sorry, what was the question? I did miss the question, unfortunately.
NNAMDIOh, we were talking about voting by mail becoming a more permanent fixture in many states. And...
AUSTERMUHLEYeah, I mean...
AUSTERMUHLE...it's the sort of thing that, I mean, this is, weirdly enough, the pandemic is probably the greatest thing that’s happened to vote-by-mail advocates, because suddenly everybody is interested, out of necessity. Now, the places in the region that could probably shift most quickly, and are, Maryland and D.C., mostly because they have no excuse absentee balloting, which Virginia's now going to do, also. But, again, I mean, this could be a boon if this turns out well this time around and people get used to it and say, hey, this is pretty convenient. You know, that might be the thing that tips the scales for the region to just say vote-by-mail is the way to go.
SHERWOODI would wonder and I'd ask Larry Sabato -- great talking to you again, Larry. I haven't talked to you for a while.
SABATOTom, great to see you other than on Twitter. (laugh)
SHERWOODWell, please follow @tomsherwood. There's a lot of talk about vote-by-mail but, you know, we do so much online now. Do we have to get to vote-by-mail before we get to online voting? You know, I can file my taxes online. I can buy something from most any company online. I can do anything online. I'm identified, I pay. Do we have to do vote-by-mail? Why can't we do also vote-by-online?
SABATOTom, are you asking me?
SABATOYeah, Tom, I'm a great...
SHERWOODYou're the one that knows everything.
SABATO...I'm a great advocate of technology, but not in this case. I actually agree with the critics on online voting. We aren't ready for that. And, believe me, a lot is going to have to be developed to increase security before I would be happy with that. I'm in favor of regressing to pencil and paper, which is really what all-mail voting is. And that's why I think we can trust it.
SABATOAnd there are all kinds of reasonable safeguards that have been adopted by the five states that already have it, which includes, by the way, a very conservative state of Utah, and they love it. You know, it can be done by November. It actually could be done sooner than that, but we need all of these days and weeks and months. And states ought to get busy on it now.
SABATOBut, of course, they're not because one of the parties has decided that somehow this would elect only Democrats. Tell that to Utah. That'd be very interesting. Only Democrats winning under all-mail balloting. No, it's really not true, is it? Utah has, except for one Democratic U.S. House member, it's a Republican state.
SHERWOODWell, President Trump -- you know, President Trump, in between recommending Lysol for various activities and drugs he can't pronounce, has said that, well, you know, if we had this kind of mail voting, the Republican will never win again.
SABATOYeah, that's what he said, and it's about as accurate as his recommendation to inject people with Clorox. (laugh)
NNAMDILarry Sabato, Virginia lawmakers decided to freeze much of their two-year spending plan as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. Do you think this freeze will put some Democratic priorities in jeopardy?
SABATOWell, they're already in jeopardy, because unlike the federal government, the state can't print money. None of the states can print money. They wish they could, but they can't, and that's why they're pushing so hard to be included in the next round of grants from Washington. You know, the trillion-dollar grants -- I think it's 2.5 trillion or more that's been passed already.
SABATOBut, no, they can't do it, and they have to live within their means. And that means delaying these priorities. It doesn't mean cancelling them. I think, eventually, they'll come into phase. However, you know, God forbid, we could have that second wave, and even a third wave, like the influenza epidemic in 1918, 1919. I hope we don't, but we have to consider the possibility. And I we do, it's going to be a while before we get the sorts of things like the increased minimum wage passed by the General Assembly a couple of months ago.
NNAMDIJenna Portnoy, any questions for Larry Sabato?
PORTNOYI'd love to know what he thinks about the midterm elections, in general, and how they may go, depending on all this virus stuff.
SABATOYeah, you mean this coming November.
PORTNOYThe House. Mm-hmm.
SABATOYeah, well, I think -- we just issued a new survey of both the House and the Senate races. What's changed there is not so much the House. The House has been favored to stay Democratic all the way along. The only way the House could go Republican is if, somehow, this election breaks open in Trump's favor, and he wins by such a large margin that he can pull Republicans in in just enough districts to hit the magic 218.
SABATOIs it possible? Of course it's possible, but it doesn't seem very likely. And, right now, Democrats are leading or clearly ahead or secure in about 227 districts. You need 218 for a majority, and that allows for many tossups, that some of which would go Democratic.
SABATONow, the Senate is the interesting part of this. If you can go back 18 months -- what did everybody say 18 months ago? Look at this map. There's no way Democrats can gain the number of seats they need. They're at 47. They have to gain four without the vice presidency and three if they manage to win the presidency and vice presidency. And they're automatically going to lose one seat in Alabama, that freakish result that gave Doug Jones the Senate seat three years ago.
SABATOWell, things have changed. And, in fact, even though Doug Jones is still very much in jeopardy, Maine, with Susan Collins, is an even bed now. Colorado is looking to oust its incumbent Republican senator, Cory Gardner, just a freshman, who will be very lucky to get a second term. And he doesn't look like he's going to get it. And you go around the country, even in Montana, which I doubt switches, but the private polls right now have the governor, Governor Bullock, ran briefly for president, leading the incumbent Republican senator, Steve Daines.
SABATOYou have other highly competitive seats that weren't expected to be on the map but are. Arizona, the Democrat Mark Kelly, the former astronaut, is actually leading the appointed incumbent Martha McSally by a considerable margin. Now, again, it's April. Loads of things can change by November, but Democrats actually have a shot at taking over the Senate.
NNAMDILarry Sabato, Virginia Senator Mark Warner released a now-viral video this week of him making a tuna melt. Frankly, that tuna melt was of questionable quality, but it's my understanding that you have a sandwich recipe, too.
SABATOAbsolutely. I recommended it to Senator Warner, but he wasn't wise enough to accept it and put out that horrible tuna melt video, which was nauseating. And not just to people like me, who are vegetarian, but I think to a broad base out there in the public. My recipe is one I think people will relate to. You take a piece of bread, you slather on peanut butter. It can be crunchy or smooth, depending on your taste.
SABATOYou take another piece of bread and you slather on jelly or jam. It can be grape, as I prefer, or strawberry, or the apricot, as I got a suggestion on Twitter. And then you slap those two pieces of bread together, and it's got all the food groups, virtually, included in it. And you know what? If you're still hungry after eating that, it takes one minute to prepare another peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich. You get two of them.
NNAMDIYou should patent that sandwich. No one has ever heard of one like it before. (laugh)
SABATOYes, no one's ever thought of that. (laugh)
NNAMDIVery quickly, maybe you can answer Joe Webb in St. Mary's County, Maryland. Joe, you only have about 30 seconds. Go ahead, please.
JOE WEBBWell, as an average Joe like myself, I want to be involved in this political thing for the presidency. I'm a 50-year-old father of four. One daughter's a cancer heart patient at... (unintelligible)
NNAMDIWhat do you want to do?
WEBBI want to be involved in politics. Probably, I can't be the president, but that's what I want to run for. And when I lose, I'll have enough people behind me to start a little consulting firm. I live near D.C.
NNAMDI(overlapping) So, you want to figure out how to run for president? How can...
WEBBYeah, a write-in candidate.
NNAMDIHow can Joe run for president, Larry?
SABATOWell, he can file. I wouldn't recommend it. It'd be a waste of his money and time. Why not start out running for the city council or the county council, something like that? Work your way up. You know, experience matters. Look at the White House today.
NNAMDI(laugh) Larry Sabato, Jenna Portnoy, Danielle Gaines, Martin Austermuhle, thank you all for joining us. Tom Sherwood, any big plans this weekend?
SHERWOODNo, I'm just here at home.
NNAMDIThat's what we all are doing, at this point. Thank you all for joining us. Today's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, Dr. Leana Wen returns to answer all your coronavirus questions. Plus, Bill Nye The Science Guy joins us for the latest Kojo for Kids, our weekly show just for young listeners. Ask him about comets, planets, genetics, mechanics. But, sorry, adults, we're taking questions from kids only. That all starts on Monday, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. Stay safe and have a good weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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