Meet the candidates and issues on this year's ballot
On Nov. 3, the Montgomery County electorate will cast votes in a variety of important local races ranging from the Board of Education (BOE) to the Circuit Court.
Montgomery County residents will vote for one candidate to fill the BOE At-Large seat. The two candidates running are Lynne Harris and Sunil Dasgupta. Harris, an educator and former President of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs (MCCPTA), believes that her background as a nurse and current teacher in the Academy of Health Sciences at Thomas Edison High School will be critical in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her number one priority is bringing the student voice to the center of all MCPS decisions. Dasgupta has also been involved with the MCCPTA and is a political science professor at the Universities at Shady Grove where the majority of his students are MCPS graduates. He wants to invest in the mental health of students and staff. Dasgupta has been endorsed by the Montgomery County Education Association, the local teachers’ union, and the Montgomery County Public Schools Retirees Association.Harris was endorsed by The Washington Post and local youth groups. The Silver Chips Editorial Board also endorsed Harris this past spring. Read personal columns from both candidates on page B5.
BOE Districts 2 and 4
There are two additional BOE races occurring in Districts 2 and 4. Residents of District 2 will vote between incumbent Rebecca Smondrowski and challenger Michael Fryar. Before serving on the board, Smondrowski was a mother of MCPS students and a legislative aide in Annapolis. Moving forward, Smondrowski aims to develop a more diverse and qualified staff and use performance data to learn about student achievement and accordingly determine where resources are most needed. Fryar is putting his experience as an educator, social worker, and lawyer at the center of his campaign. He wants to expand magnet programs, career specific schooling, and early education, and would like MCPS to utilize school choice rather than redistricting in regards to boundary changes. Smondrowski has been an advocate for keeping students at their neighborhood schools.
Many Blair families reside in District 4, where current BOE President Shebra Evans is running for reelection against Steve Solomon. In addition to her work on the BOE, Evans serves on the Board of Directors of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. If reelected, she plans to continue working to close the achievement and opportunity gaps. Solomon, her opponent, had a career in radio and began to become involved in local politics over the last several years, including an unsuccessful campaign for County Council in 2018. He hopes to expand career and technical training within schools and keep students at their neighborhood schools.
Montgomery County Circuit Court
Citizens can also vote for four people to serve on the Montgomery County Circuit Court. There are five candidates on the ballot, including four judges who currently serve on the court: Bibi Berry, David Boynton, Christopher Fogleman and Michael McAuliffe. All four went through a rigorous judicial nominating process before being appointed to their current seats by the governor. The only challenger to the sitting judges on the ballot is Marylin Pierre, a lawyer and veteran who pledges to practice restorative justice through more equitable sentencing. Pierre has not gone through the same vetting process as the other candidates.
In addition to voting for candidates to represent them, Montgomery County residents will vote on several ballot measures that will inform important decisions at both the state and county level. Question 1 and 2 are statewide measures. Question 1 proposes a state constitutional amendment that would give more budgetary control to the Maryland General Assembly. The passage of Question 2 would allow the General Assembly to pass laws allowing the expansion of commercial gaming in order to raise education revenue.
Questions A, B, C, and D pertain to Montgomery County specifically. Question A would amend the County Charter to cap the property tax rate instead of the total property tax revenue. Councilmember Andrew Friedson, the author of Question A, notes that the measure would simplify Montgomery County’s current tax policy and “create a clear, consistent and straightforward policy.” Question B is in direct opposition to Question A and would amend the County Charter to prohibit increased revenue collection from the property tax.
Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B, chaired by former BOE member Jill Ortman-Fouse and lawyer William Roberts, is trying to educate citizens on why to vote against Question B. “[Question B] prohibits the County Council from increasing the total revenue received from the property tax beyond the rate of inflation under any circumstance,” explained Ortman-Fouse. “This is really problematic because not only are we in an emergency situation now, we may be in other emergency situations in the future.” Roberts encourages citizens to do thorough research on the ballot measures before casting their votes. “Take it seriously,” he said. “Take a beat and understand the implications.”
Questions C and D pertain to the makeup of the County Council. Question C proposes expanding the council to 11 members and adding two more districts, reducing the size of the already existing districts. If passed, Question D would divide the county into nine districts and eliminate at-large seats so that each citizen is only voting for one councilmember.
An analysis of all four Montgomery County ballot measures is on page A4.
Takoma Park Mayor
On a more local scale, residents of Takoma Park will have the opportunity to vote between two candidates to be their mayor. Current mayor and Blair parent Kate Stewart is running for reelection against Roger Schlegel, a high school teacher at the Maret School in Washington, D.C., who is active in Takoma Park politics.
Stewart’s vision to make Takoma Park more accessible to everyone attracted senior Dana Graham to the campaign. “[Takoma Park is] so inaccessible, particularly for immigrants and people of color,” Graham, who is Stewart’s campaign manager, said. “What really drew me to Kate was her progressive policies, particularly in housing.”
Several other Blair students work on Mayor Stewart’s campaign, including senior Xander Toti who is the team's graphic designer. He believes Stewart is the best candidate because of her previous work in Takoma Park politics. “She has a lot of experience, both as mayor and just in local government,” Toti said.
Some Blair students, like junior Elisabeth Desmond, are supporters of Schlegel. “I was drawn by Roger's outreach to young voters,” she said. “He seems in touch with the people that he talks to.” Desmond has been helping Schlegel’s campaign by designing flyers and spreading information about his campaign on social media.
While they support different candidates, Graham, Toti, and Desmond all agree that people should pay more attention to local politics. “Local politics is the most important branch of government because at the end of the day, these are the [people] that are paving the roads and building your libraries,” Graham said. “[They’re] making your life on an everyday tiny scale better or worse.”
How to register
The general period for registering to vote ends 21 days before the election (Oct. 13). For those who missed this window, however, registration will still be available in person during early voting or on election day. Residents will need to bring proof of address, which could be a driver's license from the Maryland Motor Vehicle Association, an state identification card, a bank statement, a utility bill, or any document that has their current address and name.
How to vote
Voters can request a mail-in ballot by texting “VOTE” or “vbm” to 77788, visiting elections.maryland.gov, or completing the paper application. All eligible Maryland voters received an application for a mail-in ballot in late August or early September; this is due back to the local board of elections by Oct. 20. Those planning to mail their applications should leave at least five business days for the United States Postal Service (USPS) to deliver them; those using the online system must complete their applications by 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 20.
The application is not what will be used to vote. A resident will receive their official ballot after completing and submitting their application. The ballots must be placed in a designated drop box or postmarked by 8:00 p.m. on Nov. 3. The USPS recommends, however, that voters mail their ballots at least a week before election day to ensure that it is counted.
When filling out the ballot, it is important to follow all directions as any mistakes can lead to the ballot being rejected. Remember to sign the oath and not the ballot itself.
There are two ways to vote in person: early or on election day (Nov. 3). Early voting begins on Oct. 26 and ends Nov. 2. Because of the pandemic, most polling places will be closed. Voters will instead be able to cast their ballots at any of the bigger voting centers. Additionally, each voting center will have a drop box where voters can place their mail ballots. All voters should have received information in the mail outlining where and when to vote.
To review any voting information, such as a voter registration record, nearby voting centers, or the status of a mail-in ballot, text “CHECK” to 77788.
How are elections different this year because of COVID-19?
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maryland’s Board of Elections is recommending that everyone vote by mail. To encourage and facilitate this process, Maryland mailed all voters an application to request their mail-in ballot, which has never been done before.
According to Gilberto Zelaya, the public information officer at the Board of Elections, more than 300,000 ballots are expected to be mailed or placed in drop boxes. He urges voters to cast their ballots as early as possible. “Once you get your ballot, [fill out] your ballot and send it to us as soon as possible,” Zelaya said. “Don't wait until Nov. 3.”
At voting locations, there will be changes to ensure the safety of voters and workers. Voters must wear masks and maintain six feet of distance at all times, and there will be a limit to how many people are allowed in the polling place at a time. There will likely be lines and waits.