Cecil County Politics: Early Voting Draws 5.1% of County Voters; Co Exec Race Takes Negative Turn

April 24, 2016

Early voting in Cecil County, a week-long opportunity for local voters to cast ballots in advance of the Tuesday 4/26/16 formal primary election day, drew 5.1 percent of eligible voters to cast ballots, with Republicans casting 469 more ballots than Democrats despite the GOP’s larger voter registration advantage, according to state Board of Elections data.

As the Maryland campaigns for national, state and local candidates entered their final hours, the local race for Cecil County Executive took a negative turn not seen here since the 2012 elections when the “Smipkins” political machine—owned and operated by former state Del. Michael Smigiel and Sen. E.J. Pipkin, both R-36—distributed direct mail flyers with sharp personal attacks on local candidates. This year, the negative personal attacks have come in several last-minute flyers and a robocall initiated by County Council member Dan Schneckenberger (R-3) to attack County Council Vice President Alan McCarthy (R-1), a rival in the Republican primary election.

The state Board of Elections reported that early voting turnout in Cecil County totaled 3,262 voters, or 5.15 percent of “active eligible” registered voters. For Republicans, early voter turnout totaled 1,837, or about 7 percent of the local GOP electorate. For Democrats, early voter turnout tallied 1,368, or about 6 percent of the party’s registered voters. The numerical difference of 469 early voters favored the Republicans.

In addition, there were 53 “unaffiliated” or independent early voters, 2 Libertarian Party members, 1 Green Party member, and 1 “other” party member. The unaffiliated or minor party members could not cast ballots in the major political party local races for County Executive or two County Council seats, but they could cast ballots in the non-partisan Board of Education election to fill two seats on that panel.

Under recently implemented changes in voter registration rules, previously unregistered voters could show up at the early voting center (the County administration building in Elkton) and register to vote in the primary if they provided required identification documents. Just 14 people took advantage of that new provision, according to the Board of Elections, which did not break out the party affiliation or “unaffiliated” status of those new voters.

In local voting by County Council districts, the highest early voter turnout came in District 2— an Elkton-area district that is currently represented by Councilor Joyce Bowlsbey, who is not up for re-election this year. That Council district had a 6.61 percent early voter turnout rate. Second in turnout was Council district 1, with 6.13 percent turnout. That District is currently represented by McCarthy, who chose not to seek re-election to that seat in order to run for County Executive. In contrast, Schneckenburger’s current Council District 3 had a much smaller 3.88 percent early voter turnout rate.

Meanwhile, the GOP primary contest for County Executive took a sudden negative turn in the past few days, as Schneckenburger distributed two direct mail glossy postcards and a “robocall” telephone missive attacking McCarthy personally and by name, rather than focusing on his own record and accomplishments or plans for the future.

Schneckenburger claimed in one mailing that McCarthy “supported keeping government waste in the budget,” while he had proposed more cuts of “wasteful government spending.” Schneckenburger also tried to tie McCarthy to former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and claimed that he was a stronger supporter of the current wildly popular GOP Governor Larry Hogan than McCarthy.

On the Hogan question, state Board of Elections reports show that Schneckenburger contributed a total of $620 to Hogan’s gubernatorial campaign. In contrast, McCarthy donated $2,040 to Hogan’s campaign. By that measure, it would seem that McCarthy exceeds Schneckenburger’s commitment to Hogan, with donations at a time when Hogan was considered a long-shot and unlikely victor in heavily Democratic Maryland.

Schneckenburger also claimed that he advocated some $4 million in spending cuts in County Executive Tari Moore’s current Fiscal 2016 budget while McCarthy “supported keeping government waste in the budget.”

But coverage of the Fiscal 2016 budget deliberations by the County Council—the most detailed and difficult process since the launch of Charter government— indicate a far different reality. (Just use the “search” bar on the Cecil Times website to review contemporaneous reports of the unfolding budget process to decide for yourself, with reports written long before anyone had announced a candidacy for County Executive in the 2016 elections.)

Key to the budget deliberations were Schneckenburger’s motion to kill aid for Sheriff’s deputies’ equipment, which McCarthy did not support. But all members of the County Council agreed to cut over $2.6 million from County Executive Tari Moore’s proposed budget and prevent her planned property tax increase from taking effect.

Responding to Schneckenburger’s last-minute attacks, McCarthy posted a low-key reply on his campaign Facebook page, and said he would not resort to the “low road” of his opponent. In the Facebook posting, McCarthy responded that he was disappointed that Schneckenburger had taken “the low road in last minute personal attacks and false claims” but would not “stoop to his level.”

However, McCarthy recounted the history of last year’s budget deliberations and Schneckenburger’s initiative to cut $89,000 from Sheriff Scott Adams’ budget to provide riot-gear and anti-ballistic helmets to protect deputies. “I voted against” Schneckenburger’s initiative, McCarthy said, adding that he came up with budget cuts of $36,000 from the County Council’s own budget, and teamed with Councilor George Patchell to cut another $1,000 in spending, so as to restore $37,000 to the Sheriff’s budget.

But, in the “final moments of the Council’s formal budgeting actions, Dan Schneckenburger voted to support Council President Hodge’s last minute $150,000 cut in overall county aid for the Sheriff’s Department. I voted no,” McCarthy said. He added that he believed that deputies should have “the best and most up to date equipment” and that he would “continue to pray and ask for the safe return of all of our officers at the end of their shift.”

Schneckenburger’s late in the campaign direct mail flyers did not specify support for law enforcement or first responders’ needs in his fiscal priorities.

Schneckenburger has recruited a controversial Republican consultant/adviser to his campaign in the past few weeks, a timeframe corresponding to his heightened negative campaign tone. That consultant, Erik Robey, is the controversial former Chief of Staff to disgraced and convicted Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold. Leopold was found guilty of criminal counts of misconduct in office and forced to resign, after a salacious trial at which witnesses testified about his sexual misconduct and harassment of women employees, as well as trysts in the back seat of a car at a local shopping mall, with the complicity of some county police and employees. Robey was a leading witness at the Leopold trial.

[SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here:http://ceciltimes.com/2016/04/schneckenburger-vows-to-kill-county-contracts-grants-to-hire-aid-illegal-immigrants-hits-political-stick-at-problem-stats-show-is-minimal-here-advisor-has-political-baggage/ ]

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