Valerie L. Ervin was in, then out, then in, then out.
Actually, on paper she’s still in, even though she’s not. Truth be told, she never was. Well, sort of.
If not, don’t expect it to get any clearer at the polls between now and the June 26 primary.
The accidental candidate for governor first was Baltimore County executive Kevin B. Kamenetz’s running mate, appearing on the Maryland primary ballot as his pick for lieutenant governor.
But Kamenetz died suddenly May 10, and Ervin was faced with the decision of whether to go on, as is permitted under state law. The clock was ticking.
A week later, the former Montgomery County Council and school board member announced she was stepping up to take Kamenetz’s place as a candidate for governor, bringing with her one Marisol A. Johnson, a virtual unknown from Baltimore County, as a running mate.
Given the late date at that point, the State Board of Elections decided not to reprint the ballot, opting instead to post notices of the change in candidates in each of the state’s polling places.
“The former candidacy of Kevin Kamenetz and Valerie Ervin has been replaced by the candidacy of Valerie Ervin and Marisol Johnson,” the notice to voters read in part.
“If you wish to vote for Valerie Ervin and Marisol Johnson, mark your ballot for Kevin Kamenetz and Valerie Ervin. All votes cast for Kevin Kamenetz and Valerie Ervin will be counted as votes for Valerie Ervin and Marisol Johnson,” the notice read.
Good so far? Stop me if I’m going too fast.
Well, Ervin was not happy about this situation, not happy at all, and made it known to anyone who would listen that this was a civil rights issue, a matter of deliberate disenfranchisement. She wanted the Ervin-Johnson names on the actual ballot as candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, not on some notice posted in polling places. Period.
So, amid much outrage, she filed suit May 29 to get the ballot reprinted with the Ervin-Johnson pairing noted. On June 4, however, an Anne Arundel County Circuit judge ruled against her. After her loss, she and her lawyer decided not to appeal.
Fast forward to Wednesday, when Ervin surprised the political world – well, anyone who was paying attention – that on the eve of the start of Maryland’s early voting, she and Johnson were calling it quits, suspending their month-long campaign for the State House.
Instead, they were throwing their support to Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, one of the six other major Democratic candidates for governor.
So, Ervin is out. She quit the race.
“She did?” asked one election board worker Thursday at a Baltimore early voting center. “I didn’t know that.”
Yup, it’s true.
But no wonder election workers and voters alike are confused.
At each of Baltimore’s early voting centers, on each of the privacy shields around each of the ballot readers Thursday was the State Board of Elections notice:
“If you wish to vote for Valerie Ervin and Marisol Johnson, mark your ballot for Kevin Kamenetz and Valerie Ervin. All votes cast for Kevin Kamenetz and Valerie Ervin will be counted as votes for Valerie Ervin and Marisol Johnson.”
Plus, there was a stack of the notices at the voter check-in tables, too.
And apparently, that was the case at each of the 78 voting centers all across The Free State on Thursday, election officials said.
That, however, was not a mistake.
It seems that because Ervin suspended her campaign after the March 1 withdraw deadline for candidates, there is nothing else that the state elections board can legally do to change the ballot – or any supplemental information that was previously determined necessary for voters.
“A vote cast for Kevin Kamenetz and Valerie Ervin will be counted for Valerie Ervin and Marisol Johnson and reported accordingly,” explained Donna J. Duncan, assistant deputy administrator at the state elections board in Annapolis.
Duncan said she did not know if the Ervin campaign notified the board of the candidate’s last-minute decision to abandon her bid.
In any event, she said, “There’s no such paperwork that would be filed at this office.”
When Armstead B.C. Jones Sr., director of the Baltimore City Board of Elections, heard about Ervin’s announcement Wednesday, his reaction was, “What do we do now?”
“I picked the phone up and called the state [Board of Elections], and we were told directly just to move forward, as it was,” Jones said outside the early voting center at Park Heights Avenue and Northern Parkway. “Then, I think an email came out basically saying the same thing.”
Undoing what already had been done seemed almost insurmountable for opening day of early voting, he said.
“Most of those [notices] were already … pasted inside the privacy sleeve and visible around the polling place, so that people would know the situation,” Jones said. “At that point, it [would have been] really hard to try to do, to pull them back.
“Now if we did have to do that, it would have had to have been done today, and then trying to get the message today to all of the judges would have been hell,” he said.
None of the dozens of campaign loyalists outside the polling place in the Baltimore City Public Safety Training Center on Park Heights Avenue seemed troubled by such details about notices and whether they should be posted or removed.
There, T-shirted poll workers and candidates alike glad-handed, passed out campaign literature, waved signs and swarmed slow passing vehicles with possible voters aboard, as the colorful swirl of the carnival that marks the exercise of the franchise got underway again this election year.