2018 | Politics

Floreen Turns in 20,343 Signatures Supporting Independent Bid for County Exec

Elections board will determine if she has met requirement to appear on November ballot

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Bethany Rodgers

County Council member Nancy Floreen on Monday delivered four boxes containing 20,343 signatures to the Montgomery County Board of Elections, hoping it’ll be enough to earn her a place in the county executive race.

About 7,200 of those names will have to stand up to scrutiny for the independent candidate to appear on the November ballot next to Democratic council member Marc Elrich and attorney Robin Ficker, the Republican nominee for county executive.

“This is a really critical time for Montgomery County,” Floreen said, standing in front of a stack of boxes outside the elections board offices in Gaithersburg. “It’s a time for people to come together and not grow apart. It’s a time to get away from the partisanship at the national and state levels and deal with what’s real, which is our county and our future.”

Floreen said volunteers by the hundreds circulated petitions at “their yoga classes and farmers markets” and elsewhere, although she did enlist some professional assistance by hiring a grassroots organizing firm called FieldWorks for the effort. When asked how much she’d spent on collecting the names, Floreen said the information would be available in her next campaign finance report.

The elections board will now have up to 20 days to check Floreen’s list by comparing the names against voter registration records. Only Montgomery County voters count toward Floreen’s total, and to be considered valid, an entry must include a signature, printed name and address.

Floreen seemed to be in high spirits Monday, as she cracked jokes with reporters and hammed it up for photographs in front of her petition boxes. She largely sidestepped questions about how she compares to other candidates, saying she wants to know if she’s met her signature requirement before she fires up her campaign.

The four-term council member launched her independent bid out of dissatisfaction with the primary outcome, which she said left voters caught between candidates on the left and right extremes. A longtime Democrat, she declared in early July that she was switching to an unaffiliated party registration so she could pursue the county executive post as a moderate candidate.

In a statement, Elrich said he believes “my message of working toward a more inclusive and responsive county will continue to resonate with voters in the general election.”

He also shared a list of prominent Democrats who support him, including Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Matthews, County Executive Ike Leggett and former primary opponents David Blair, Roger Berliner, Bill Frick and George Leventhal. Berliner and Leventhal serve on the council with Floreen and Elrich.

“I am proud to be the Democratic nominee for County Executive and look forward to working with Democratic leaders and organizations to elect great Democratic candidates up and down the ballot as part of this year’s blue wave,” he said in the statement.

Floreen’s decision to run has elicited criticism from some in her former party.

“If she thought she could’ve won our primary, she should’ve run in it. That’s a lot of the feedback I’m hearing,” said Scott Goldberg, the newly elected chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. “It’s unfortunate that she didn’t, and it’s unfortunate that she decided to run as an independent, not a year ago, but because she didn’t like the result of our primary.”

Floreen said a year ago, she had no plans to run for county executive and was content with the options in the six-way Democratic contest. She gave her primary endorsement to Rose Krasnow, who finished third in the vote totals behind Elrich and Blair.

Another concern among some Democrats is that Floreen’s bid will split the party’s vote; on Monday, she dismissed the idea that her candidacy would allow Ficker to pull off a surprise win in the deep-blue county.

“Mr. Ficker is going to come in third, no matter what. That’s a fact,” she said. “And what you’re hearing is really … a hope for unity in Montgomery County, not the splitting of the community apart.”

Former County Executive Doug Duncan said he believes Floreen has a fighting chance against Elrich, even though Montgomery County hasn’t elected a non-Democratic county executive since the 1970s.

“In Montgomery County, it’s a very well-educated electorate. So they will read up on the issues, they’ll look at the different candidates,” said Duncan, who is supporting Floreen’s candidacy. “Clearly, she’s got a good base within the Democratic party who will support her. Then, I think she’ll do well with independents. She’ll do well with some Republicans, too, and the fact that she’s a woman, I think that will play a role in this race.”

Her ability to gather more than 20,000 signatures in fewer than four weeks also bodes well for her, he added.

Goldberg said he’s not so sure about that.

The local party chair said he fended off Floreen’s canvassers (they caught him in an elevator on his way to Elrich’s post-election victory celebration, he said), but he’s spoken to some loyal Democrats who did opt to sign the petition.

“We’re Democrats. We love voting, and we love people on the ballot,” he said.

However, the Democrats he’s talked to aren’t planning on voting for Floreen on Election Day, Goldberg said. Despite Floreen’s characterization of him, Elrich is not on the party’s extreme, he said.

“I think Marc Elrich represents a lot of mainstream ideas: That if people work 40 hours a week, they should be able to survive. That before we allow lots of construction, we think about how we are going to move people move people from one place to another. … I don’t think those are fringe ideas at all,” he said.

An elections board spokeswoman said her agency might need the full 20 days allowed by law to finish evaluating the stacks of petition forms, with the preparation work alone expected to take two or three days. Once that’s done, between 10 and 20 elections board staffers will begin the task of reviewing each form to see if the required information is provided.

To count toward Floreen’s signature requirement, a person must write his or her name largely the way it appears in the state’s voter registration records.

For someone registered as John Henry Smith, petition entries of John H. Smith or J. Henry Smith would work, but J.H. Smith would not. Making things even more complicated, petition entries should include a printed name and signature, and both combined can provide sufficient information even if they’re deficient standing alone. For instance, a printed name of John Smith with a signature of J.H. Smith would be acceptable, according to state requirements.

Because of the nuanced rules on petitions, candidates often collect far more signatures than they need, with the expectation that many will be disqualified. A spokeswoman for Floreen’s team said they’d been shooting to gather at least 15,000 names.

Ficker, who’s well-practiced in leading petition drives, including the successful 2016 push for term limits, said he thinks Floreen has enough of a cushion to hit the 7,200-mark. The Boyds attorney said he welcomes her entry into the race and looks forward to debating her and Elrich, two candidates he regards as largely identical in their views.

“In the debate, I’m going to feel like I’m in an echo chamber,” he said.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.