The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC) will meet Thursday in closed session, with the future of Chair Kevin Walling – elected to the post last July – high on the agenda.
The session comes amid widespread complaints and anger from a number of local elected officials about the handling of the Democratic sample ballot that was distributed by mail and at the polls just prior to the Nov. 4 general election. Many of these elected officials, whose campaign committees were asked to contribute funds to underwrite the printing and distribution of the sample ballot, charge that significantly fewer ballots were mailed out than in previous election years – and that a very limited number of Democratic voters received them in several districts where Democratic candidates were facing competitive Republican opponents.
In a telephone interview Friday afternoon, Walling acknowledged the latter issues were the central problems surrounding the sample ballot effort, but declined to discuss in detail how things had gone wrong this year.
“Clearly, this was mishandled,” he said.
Asked if he is considering resigning, Walling noted that, at the regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the MCDCC last Tuesday, “I took full blame in terms of managing the staff and oversight of the sample ballot process, and offered to step down if a majority of members wanted me to or a majority of folks had lost confidence in me as a leader.”
The MCDCC went into closed session following Tuesday’s open meeting, but no motion was offered at that time calling for Walling’s resignation, according to sources. However, Walling appears to have lost the confidence of several members of the committee’s leadership. At least three members of the MCDCC executive committee – including Vice Chair Arthur Edmunds, Secretary Wendy Cohen and Treasurer Timothy Whitehouse – are said to have advised Walling that he needs to step down in order to resolve the current situation.
Meanwhile, at a dinner meeting a day prior to last Tuesday’s MCDCC session, Sen. Nancy King of Montgomery Village – the incoming chair of the eight-member county Senate delegation – told Walling that he had lost the confidence of many members of the county’s state legislative delegation over the handling of the sample ballot matter, sources said. Walling characterized the focus of the session – which also included Del. Anne Kaiser of Silver Spring, who chairs the county’s 24-member House delegation, and Joy Nurmi, a special assistant to County Executive Ike Leggett – as King and Kaiser “asking how do we fix this problem, and how do we move forward?”
Asked whether he feels his resignation is needed to accomplish those goals, Walling replied: “I’m not going to comment on that – that’s for the central committee to decide and for folks to talk about.”
Kaiser represents District 14 in the county’s eastern section, and King is from District 39 in the middle to northern section of the county; both are districts where Republican candidates mounted active, although unsuccessful campaigns in the Nov. 4 election. However, a breakdown of sample ballot distribution made available to MCDCC members indicates that far fewer Democratic sample ballots were mailed out in District 14 and District 39 than in Districts 18 – which extends from Chevy Chase to Silver Spring – and District 20, which is based in the Silver Spring/Takoma Park area.
This disparity came despite the fact that Democratic state legislative candidates in District 18 and District 20 faced no Republican opponents in this year’s general election.
There are approximately 355,000 registered Democrats in the county, concentrated in just under 190,000 households. Overall, less than half – just over 90,000 of these households – received Democratic sample ballots this year, a number that several sources said was significantly less than in prior election years.
Particularly aggrieved are the Democratic legislative candidates in District 15, which stretches from the outskirts of Bethesda through Potomac north to the Frederick County line. Of the more than 90,000 Democratic sample ballots that went throughout the county, only 702 sample ballots went to Democratic voters in District 15 – even though the Republicans had a couple of well-financed candidates on the ballot for the Maryland Legislature.
One member of the District 15 delegation, Del. Kathleen Dumais, attended last Tuesday’s MCDCC meeting to express her concern. She noted that she and her District 15 Democratic colleagues – Sen. Brian Feldman and Dels. David Fraser-Hidalgo and Aruna Miller – had contributed a total of $4,500 in campaign funds to help finance printing and mailing of the sample ballot.
“District 15 contributed $4,500 and we got 702 sample ballots,” Dumais said in an interview, echoing her comments to the MCDCC. “That’s about $6 apiece. For $4,500 we could have mailed 10,000 pieces. So it’s a huge problem.”
She termed this year’s problems “unacceptable,” adding, “This committee is important, and we have a presidential election in 2016 and another gubernatorial election in 2018. This can’t happen [again].”.
Dumais, Kaiser and King, along with Sen. Roger Manno, have been coordinating informally to address the concerns of many of their colleagues over the handling of the sample ballot this year. In addition to the overall number and the targeting of the mailings, there were numerous problems in the printing of this year’s Democratic sample ballots – including in District 19, which Manno represents. Democratic voters there received ballots mistakenly identifying Sen. Richard Madaleno as their representative; Madaleno is actually from neighboring District 18.
Walling could not provide a precise accounting Friday of how much money was collected from candidates for state and county office to print and mail this year’s sample ballot, saying payments are still coming in. Other sources said at least $70,000 was collected overall for this purpose. Dumais and other members of the legislative delegation are expected to ask for an accounting in the coming days, to ensure that all of the money collected from the candidates was devoted to the sample ballot effort.
Several elected officials, speaking on the basis of anonymity, said the current anger toward Walling arises not only from the problems in the printing and mailing of the sample ballot – but also because of initial efforts by Walling to offer excuses for the problems that many regarded as implausible.
The 29-year old Walling less than four months ago became the youngest MCDCC chair ever. His election came amid a major turnover in the committee, which has highlighted divisions between newer and more veteran members of the panel.
“I haven’t had the level of support I’d like,” Walling said of his brief tenure. “Part of that is a failure on my part, but I think part of that is a failure on the part of members of the committee.”
He later declined to elaborate, saying: “I’m going to accept full blame for this. I don’t want to call anyone out. My focus is what is best for the party moving forward.”