Mail-In Voting Increases Campaign Costs, Rockville Candidates Say
Many increased their outreach to eligible voters as election draws near
Rockville City Council candidates at the first of three forums held before the city's election on Nov. 5.
Photo by Kate Masters
Most of Rockville’s 15 candidates have at least one thing in common — higher campaign costs as they work to expand their reach across the city for the November election.
Mayoral candidates Virginia Onley and Bridget Donnell Newton, the incumbent, attributed the higher spending to the city’s new mail-in voting system, a thought several council candidates echoed in an especially competitive race.
“I think in the past, it was easy to know that around 6,000 people would vote in the city election,” said council candidate Cynthia Cotte Griffiths, running for her first term after several years as a community volunteer and local blogger. “But with vote-by-mail, you’re trying to reach as many people as possible. And that usually means more mailers, which are more expensive.”
In 2015, 6,468 voters cast ballots in the city election out of 40,749 registered voters, said City Clerk Sara Taylor-Ferrell. Four years later, the city has 44,493 registered voters, and officials are anticipating a much larger turnout through mail-in ballots.
Onley and Donnell Newton are competing in the mayoral race, while 13 candidates vie for four available seats in the City Council race. Onley is aligned with four council candidates as “Team Rockville,” a slate that shares a common vision of protecting diversity in the city and saving Town Center. Donnell Newton is also running with four council candidates as part of “Rockville Forward,” an opposing group committed to elevating new candidates, she said.
Cotte Griffiths, a member of Team Rockville, raised $13,226 for her campaign, including $8,000 in personal loans she borrowed for the race. But the number pales in comparison to some of her colleagues on the slate, which includes first-time council candidates James Hedrick and David Myles.
Mark Pierzchala, an incumbent councilman, is also running for his fourth term as part of the Team Rockville coalition.
Myles, an emergency department pediatrician, raised $20,246 in individual contributions, more than any other candidate in the race. He also took out $10,891 in loans, which helped him edge out Pierzchala in fundraising totals.
Pierzchala took out $24,000 in personal loans to fund his campaign and raised $6,042.35 in individual contributions — a total of $30,042.35.
Neither he nor Myles was immediately available to comment on their fundraising efforts.
Onley raised $12,804.32 through contributions, including a $250 donation from former County Executive Ike Leggett, $75 from state Del. Julie Palakovich Carr, and $100 from state Del. Gabriel Acevero.
She also received $250 from SSGovRelations, a lobbying and consulting firm founded by former County Council Member Steve Silverman, who also served as the county’s Director of Economic Development.
Donnell Newton raised $15,650, including a $12,000 donation to her own campaign. She later transferred that $12,000 to Rockville Forward, a competing slate that includes her own campaign and four council candidates: incumbent Beryl Feinberg, Suzan Pitman, Kuan Lee, and Monique Ashton.
“They all have in-depth experience in the city and bring a great deal to the table in terms of discussions and ideas,” Donnell Newton said. “And by running together, we can share the burden of the campaign.”
Both Onley and Cottes Griffith agreed that financing was one of the benefits of running as part of a team. Onley has contributed $3,000 of her donations to Team Rockville, she said, and every candidate has contributed to the cost of team mailers.
Members of both slates have also donated to their colleagues’ campaigns. Some of the lowest fundraising numbers came from independent candidates including Richard Gottfried, Charles Littlefield, and Donald Masters, all of whom raised less than $1,500 for their campaigns.
Independent candidate Brigitta Mullican was the one exception, with a total of $15,899, including $1,275 in personal loans.
The city will hold a final candidate forum from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday at Twinbrook Community Recreation Center.
The deadline to register for mail-in ballots was Sept. 20, but residents can still register at Rockville City Hall on Election Day to vote in person.
All ballots are due by Nov. 5. Residents can mail or drop their ballots off at City Hall, or cast them in person on Election Day.