Leading Democrats in Prince George’s County are distributing at least four different sample ballots at early voting sites and Election Day polling places this year because warring factions were unable to agree on key issues.
The Democratic Central Committee usually funds, creates, prints and distributes an official sample ballot that lists the party’s favored candidates and positions on state and local referendums.
But committee members were divided this year over “Question D,” a proposal to add two at-large seats to the nine-member county council. Unable to agree on the expansion and whether to endorse candidates in nonpartisan school board races, they voted not to issue a sample ballot at all.
Instead, one group of individual candidates and political action committees supporting county judges created a sample ballot encouraging Democrats — who make up about 80 percent of Prince George’s voters — to support the council expansion.
Opponents of the ballot question, including Board of Education candidates Edward Burroughs and Raaheela Ahmed, issued a competing sample ballot urging a “no” vote. Political activists and community groups such as Progressive Prince George’s have also campaigned against the referendum.
A third sample ballot, endorsing a slate of school board candidates and the expansion of the council, is being distributed by a group of real estate developers who donated to the Recharge At-Large committee. That committee, which backs the council expansion, includes several people with close ties to County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D).
And a trio of congressional candidates — Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D), who is running for Senate; Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D), who is seeking his 19th term; and former lieutenant governor Anthony G. Brown, who is the Democratic nominee in the 4th District — funded a separate ballot that endorses school board candidate Cheryl Landis as well as the council expansion.
Prince George’s council members and the county executive are limited to two terms in office. Adding at-large seats to the council would reduce parochialism, supporters say, and give lawmakers an opportunity to stay in office longer, since they could serve two terms representing a district and then up to two terms in an at-large seat.
But the expansion would add more than $1 million a year to the council’s operating budget, mostly for salaries for the new members and their staff.
Party leaders such as Baker largely support the expansion. But a coalition of community groups and a few elected officials have campaigned against it, saying they do not want elected officials in office for up to four terms. Opponents also speculate that candidates who run countywide would need more in campaign donations and would thus be beholden to special interests.
The debate divided the central committee. Some members felt they had a responsibility to listen to voters, and others prioritized standing with party leaders. The 32-member committee failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to issue a ballot supporting either a “yes” or “no” vote.
“What’s troubling about this is that the elected machinery did not like the fact” that the committee did not do its bidding, committee member Theresa Dudley said of the proliferation of unofficial sample ballots.
Democratic officeholders, she charged, “are basically saying they don’t care what voters think.”
Outside the Bowie Municipal Gymnasium early voting site on Thursday, volunteers for rival school board candidates Ahmed and Landis distributed competing sample ballots.
“You got the right one,” a woman working for Landis said to a voter who was given the ballot paid for by the campaigns of Van Hollen, Hoyer and Brown.
One of Ahmed’s volunteers walked right behind, handing the same voter a different sample ballot, the one endorsing Ahmed and opposing Question D.
“That’s not official,” the volunteer said of the pro-Landis ballot the voter had been handed moments earlier. “We are all Democrats.”
As the voter disappeared into the polling station, the Landis volunteer yelled out, “Don’t be fooled!”