Now, it's all about turnout

Supporters and opponents of Maryland ballot questions seek to get their voters to the polls

November 03, 2012|By Annie Linskey and Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

With just two days left until polls open on Election Day, all sides of Maryland's fiercely contested ballot questions are turning to their final task: getting their supporters into the voting booth.

To accomplish that goal, the campaigns have recruited churches, labor unions and other advocacy groups to help find voters, and many will rely on get-out-the-vote machines they've built themselves from the ground up.

"We will keep calling you until you have voted," promised Adam Limehouse, field director for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, which is supporting the state's same-sex marriage law. "It is the way to get people out, and it really does work."

Ditto for opponents of same-sex marriage, who launched a robocall campaign Friday to remind voters to cast ballots. Both sides will field phone banks in the Washington suburbs over the weekend. Plans for other campaigns include a rally in Baltimore by supporters of an immigrant education measure, leafleting in the suburbs by those opposed, and church sermons on multiple questions all over the state.

The unusually aggressive get-out-the-vote push is due to the busy state ballot which, for the first time in 50 years, includes three hot-button laws that were petitioned to referendum. Adding to the cacophony, Maryland's General Assembly asked voters to decide on a gambling expansion law.

That measure alone has attracted $70 million in spending from casino interests — nearly what was spent in the last three Maryland gubernatorial races combined.

Heavy get-out-the-vote activity is expected on these statewide ballot questions:

•Question 4: Should the state uphold the Dream Act, which would allow illegal immigrants who graduated from Maryland high schools and whose parents have filed three years' worth of state tax returns to qualify for in-state tuition rates at Maryland colleges and universities?

•Question 5: Should the state keep or scrap the new congressional boundaries drawn in the once-a-decade redistricting process? A federal judge called the map a blatant case of gerrymandering, but the court found it legal.

•Question 6: Should the state uphold a new law allowing same-sex marriage in Maryland?

•Question 7: Should the state allow a sixth casino, to be build in Prince George's County, and also allow table games like poker at all Maryland gambling locations?

A vote "for" each measure would uphold it. A vote "against" would knock down the law — or, in the case of the congressional map, send it back to the General Assembly to be redrawn.

The ballot questions pose a special challenge in a state that does not usually put laws before the electorate to decide. Each campaign must be sure voters continue reading the lengthy ballot after casting a presidential vote.

"Their most important turnout activity is to make sure their supporters go all the way down the ballot," said Mike Morrill, a veteran Democratic strategist. "Casual or infrequent voters are far less likely to complete the ballot, especially when whole portions may be 'hidden' on the electronic machines, requiring scrolling."

An obvious first place to turn for motivation is the state's elected leaders. Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, supports all four measures.

"We have seen some pretty good evidence that the GOTV effort is working," O'Malley said during a recent conference call with reporters.

He pushed a partisan message, which can work in a state like Maryland that has twice as many Democrats as Republicans. "These measures were all passed by the Democratic legislature," the governor said. "When it comes to most of the ballot questions, the opposition came from one wing of the Republican party."

On Thursday night, members of that Republican bloc rallied at Blob's Park Bavarian Beer Garden in Anne Arundel County to motivate their supporters. Advocates put together red yard signs urging "no" votes on all four laws. They handed out stacks of bumper stickers against each question and "palm cards" highlighting the convoluted lines of the state's congressional map.

"For the first time in a long time we are making a difference," said Del. Nic Kipke, an Anne Arundel Republican, speaking to a room of about 50 people from across the state.

"Even if you are not with us for all of the questions, your voice — for the first time in decades — matters," he said.

The better-funded ballot campaigns are constructing their own get-out-the-vote organizations. Starting from scratch, they have used their resources to seek out like-minded voters across party lines.

Limehouse, the pro-same-sex-marriage field director, pointed out that in some campaigns one can use party identification as "a reliable measure" of support. "That has not been the case with marriage equality this year," he said, as Democrats and Republicans are found on both sides of the issue.

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