Maryland Officials Not Concerned about Voter-Registration Fraud Plaguing Other States


Volunteers, interest groups and any individuals who want to print out the proper forms are rushing to register voters as Maryland’s deadline looms less than two weeks away. But while recent voter-registration scandals have been cause for concern in some states, the State Board of Elections said the focus in Maryland is on voter roll maintenance, not registration fraud prevention.

“There’s a process in place, a very specific process that we work through,” said Ross Goldstein, spokesman for the Board of Elections. “We meet the letter of the law with respect to voter registration list maintenance.”

Prominent businessman and voter-registration drive leader Nathan Sproul, who runs Strategic Allied Consulting, is at the center of a voter-fraud registration scandal in Florida. Sproul, who has consulted prominent Republican candidates such as Mitt Romney, was linked to hundreds of forms containing irregularities, including suspicious signatures and missing information in nine Florida counties.

Voter-registration fraud such as this, or when firms don’t send in forms for voters from the opposite party, is insidious, said Paul Herrnson, director for the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland.

“People who believe they have taken the actions to register to vote show up on election day and then find out they aren’t able to vote,” Herrnson said.

While Herrnson calls such actions “heinous,” he said it’s not something he thinks is an issue in Maryland, even in a year when there are three high-profile referendums on the ballot.

“Maryland is a pretty clean state in terms of its politics, and the competition for the presidential election isn’t very large,” Herrnson said. “Things that go on in other states don’t seem to happen here. Not that they can’t, but they don’t.”

While recent presidential campaigns in Maryland have been dominated by Democrats, and therefore not competitive, Marylanders are voting on three contentious referendums in November. The ballot questions on same-sex marriage, the Dream Act and casinos have raised the political stakes during this presidential cycle, with both in- and out-of-state organizations pouring millions of dollars into the campaigns.

On the casino question alone, both sides have contributed more than $34 million to their respective campaigns.

In order to maintain voter rolls, the State Board of Elections checks voter information each month against death and prosecution data to make sure the roll is up to date, Goldstein said. But there is no specific internal regulation for monitoring voter registration drives or tracking what groups are running such drives.

In fact, if individuals wanted to print out 50 registration forms and register people in their front yard, they could, Goldstein said.

“There’s nothing that could stop you from doing that,” Goldstein said. “But to be an official voter registration volunteer, there’s a little program you would have to sit through in order to receive materials from us.”

But the state department doesn’t maintain a list of which individuals have gone through this training, though some counties do, Goldstein said.

The deadline to register to vote, update address information and request a polling place change is 9 p.m., Oct. 16.

For more information, visit the state Board of Elections website at


The Marshmallow Test: How Would Your Kids Fare?


Thanks to the brilliant radio documentary on public education a few weeks ago by This American Life, the Spy was introduced to the Marshmallow Test created by Stanford University’s Walter Mischel. It is considered to be an extremely reliable tool in determining future long term success of children by evaluating the important non-cognitive skill of patience.

In short, a marshmallow was offered to each child. If the child could resist eating the marshmallow over a ten minute period, he was promised two instead of one. Mischel’s data suggests that a child’s capacity to resist temptation significantly correlated with successful adulthoods for those in the study.

Non-cognitive skills like patience, tolerance, and stress management are now seen by experts as just as important as achievement scores in testing the success of education for young people. While there might be disagreement on this point, there is none in how hard this exercise is for kids.

Grading the Chester: A Conversation with Riverkeeper David Foster


The Chester River Association made a unique choice in selecting David Foster as the new Riverkeeper for the Chester River. With over 30 years of experience in Asia with USAID, and later in Washington at the Environmental Protection Agency, both with a significant focus on air pollution, Foster’s vita did not, at first glance, match the background needed to advocate for a Chesapeake Bay river facing permanent damage from water pollution. Wisely, however, the CRA leadership came to appreciate David’s extraordinary capacity to bring skeptics and different communities together to protect their shared natural resources.

In his candid first interview with the Spy, David Foster outlines the huge hurdles facing the Chester River. Giving the river a grade of “C+” for over all water quality, he outlines the challenges ranging from bad weather, too much dependence of government, and more importantly, the hundreds of sources of pollution that a river like the Chester must contend with. He also highlights some of great new strategies that have the potential for significant impact on the river, including the introduction of switchgrass on Eastern Shore farms and market-based programs like nutrient trading.

Nonetheless, he reminds the viewer that while protective action can result in an almost immediate improvement to air quality, water improvement is a very long game, with endless twists and turns, producing only incremental improvements for a watershed like the Chesapeake Bay. For more information, please contact David at

Cover photo by Tyler Campbell

Changing Gears: Chestertown Idiots’ Start Bobbledy Books for Children


About eighteen months ago, Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr were literally minding their own business (Idiots’Books) at a large AWP writers’ conference when a stranger came up to their booth and told them in so many words to change their product.

While the unexpected critic started with a nice compliment about the couple’s award-winning collection of books on display, the take home message was, at least according to Matthew, “Boy, he thought we had some great, weird books, but if we were doing children’s books, he would have bought six subscriptions on the spot for his nieces and nephews.”

Robbi, while now a mother of three, was the first to say that Idiots’Books didn’t “do” children’s books, but in the back of her head she started to realize that six subscriptions a pop started to sound like “liquid gold.” And in a relatively short period of time, she started to see a very big upside of doing books for kids. But convincing her partner/husband, the one that was actually going to write the books, was going to be a hard sell.

For one thing, children’s books was the exact opposite of what Idiots’Books was all about. With such titles as The Baby is Disappointing and Babies Ruin Everything, Robbi and Matthew had successfully built their business into a popular offbeat brand with high five’s coming from such hip media as the New York Magazine. He didn’t see how he could change his audience to toddlers.

And for another, Matthew didn’t know how to write children’s books.

“I told Robbi on a road trip to Illinois, somewhere near Cleveland, I think, that I simply couldn’t write children’s books. But once we got to Chicago, I started to feel better about it, and decided to see what I could do… So I challenged myself to write one hundred children’s books in a hundred days. And twenty of those we liked well enough to move forward.”

What was important for both of them was to make sure they had their own approach. Entering into an extremely formualistic children’s book industry, they knew they needed to be different.

“Part of the advantage of what we are doing,” said Robbi, “is that we don’t have to appeal to the masses like most of the big publishers do. We just need to appeal to people who want fun, kinda weird, books for kids. The pleasure of reading Matthew’s stories is that he doesn’t follow a particular path one that you would find in a kid’s book at Barnes and Noble.”

One of the different paths Bobbledy Books is following is a plan to create a unique community that interacts with Bobbledly in the same way as IdiotsBooks – a subscription-based model. In this case, they want to create a readership of kids and their parents that not only provides high quality books that entertain, but can share basic values as well.

While Bobbledy Books doesn’t offer a decoder ring yet, it does seem to seek that same kind of special pleasure children experience in joining a club for the first time. Bobbledy has lined up a host of benefits that come with a family subscription.

Over the course of a year, young club members receive three picture books; an album of songs performed by their  friend and composer Drew Bunting; a book that is finished by the reader; and even one book authored by a member and professionally designed by Robbi and Matthew. Add to that a five headed crayon, a birthday card, and a daily blog post with new short stories and contests, and you begin to understand Matthew and Robbi’s unique approach in building their new community.

“We are terrible at research,” said Matthew. “We simply do what we want to do, almost pigheadedly so, but we want these kids to have a relationship with Bobbledy. Kids can experience the fun of getting letters from us or reading a beautifully illustrated book, and that’s a great thing for a family.”

Although Bobbledy Books is becoming a large part of Matthew and Robbi’s business, they remain equally committed to keeping Idiots Books going.  “We might reduce the number of books we do per year,” said Robbi, “but we love doing Idiots’Books, but it will now be a book division of Bobbledy Books.”

The first book out for Bobbledy will be The Girl With Frogs In Her Ears this fall.

Bobbledy Books can now be found online here or at the Book Plate  Bookplate Bookstore in Chestertown, where there will be a reading, Q&A, and signing their books on December 7.

Photography by Jiho Sohn


Update: Chestertown Senior Citizen Missing Found


The Kent County Sheriff’s Office has found the Chestertown man reported missing Friday.

The original story:

George F. Owen, 75 years old, has gone missing. The Chestertown resident, who is 5’11 and about 190 pounds, was last seen in his Ford F150 truck on August 22.  If anyone has seen Mr Owen or his truck, the family asks that they call 911.  

A Friend of Bill’s: Washington College’s Founder and American Education


One of the more curious aspects of Washington College has been its relative ambivalence about its founder, the Rev. William Smith. Compared to the reputation of the College’s namesake saint,  Smith’s biography as being a loyal Tory, legendary foe of Benjamin Franklin, and one of the better known alcoholics in Colonial America, is not the kind of thing a school is eager to immediately promote to high school seniors.

And so, not surprisingly, over the years, William Smith’s role with the founding of Washington College has increasingly become more obscure as George Washington’s relatively modest relationship as patron and board member for the school has become excessively hyped to win over prospective students and their history-reading parents.

While historians will need to determine Washington’s lasting impact on the school, professor emeritus Colin Dickson thinks WC might be missing the boat by not publicly acknowledging Smith’s growing reputation of having a decisive and long lasting impact on American education.

This new respect for Smith might be partly due to the release of his papers to researchers by the University of Pennsylvania just a few years ago. Previously stored away in private hands for more then a century, Penn recently purchased over 350 letters covering Smith’s arrival to Philadelphia in 1753 until his death in 1803.

The Spy sat down with Professor Dickson a few weeks ago to discuss William Smith and understand more why we should pay our due respect.

Spy Q and A with Jamie Gaudion: How the Chestertown Farmer’s Market Began


When Jamie Gaudion was living at Quaker Neck almost thirty years ago, there was plenty of fresh produce available in Kent County, but no central place to buy it. Having lived in France for several years with her husband Pierre, she was convinced that Chestertown could support a Saturday farmers’ market similar to those in every French village, offering local farm produce. More than ten years before such legendary markets like the famous San Francisco Ferry Building Market was started, Chestertown established its market which has been in continual operation since its beginning in 1983. Jamie and her family now live in Maine, where she is a teacher at Foxcroft Academy.

The Spy caught up with her by phone last week to talk about the founding of the market.

How did the Chestertown Farmers’ Market start?

We were having dinner with Hurtt and Hila (my sister) Deringer and the then mayor Elmer Horsey and his wife Joan. This was just after Pierre and I had returned to the U.S. from living in France for a few years. I remember saying to Elmer something like ‘Chief, Chestertown needs a market where farmers can sell their local produce. I think people would support it. This would make Chestertown a market town, and good things happen in market towns.’

Well, Elmer told me to figure out a plan and the town would support it.

What were your first steps?

I knew people who lived in town would love the idea of walking to the park for fresh produce. I knew some farmers who agreed to give it a try, and then found a few others who joined in. One guy already sold produce at Crumpton, another was from Rock Hall. Owen McCoy, who was there from the beginning, agreed to help me out. We teamed up with Bill Ingersoll, our town manager, who was really supportive and helpful in making the market a reality.

Orginal Drawing for Farmer’s Market Banner (1983)

We also worked on a drawing of a banner we would put up in the park to let people know about farmers coming in on Saturdays. It was designed and painted by Marilyn White who graciously offered her talent. Bill may still have the original design in his office.

What was the relationship with the Farmers’ Market and the Town?

From the beginning it was a town project, and we worked with Bill to get his input and agreement on policy. In the beginning the market was just along Park Row, with those parking spaces reserved early Saturday morning for vendors. I remember we decided against permitting jewelry and gift items because we wanted the focus to be on farm goods and fresh bakery items.

When we started, there were as many flower vendors as there were produce stands. Flowers were a huge draw. Buyers and vendors got to know one another, and friendships were fostered on those Saturday mornings. Also visitors to town seemed happy to have the market there to wander through and become a part of the small town routine where friends and neighbors met and children ran relatively free.

Did you limit or control the vendors?

As far as control, Bill offered guidelines for policy. The sale of meat, shellfish, and items needing refrigeration was not permitted. Owen and I kept an eye on the vendors, trying as much as possible to make sure people were not selling things they hadn’t grown or produced.

We also wanted to keep the park itself open and accessible as a space for families to enjoy.

Are you pleased how the market turned out?

Eventually I turned over weekly market duties to Owen, and became just a joyful participant, savoring like everyone else the gorgeous venue of a fresh produce market on a summer or early fall day.

It gives me enormous pleasure to think that the market is thriving.

Chestertown Flashback: Ann Wilmer Hoon


When the Chestertown Spy recently decided to start a “Chestertown Flashback” series to record personal memories of growing up along the Chester River, it was hard to think of anyone more qualified to start the program than Ann Wilmer Hoon. The only daughter of the legendary former mayor, Phillip Wilmer, Ann is part of a eight generation family of Chestertown natives (starting with Stepney Manor), with several different experiences with Chestertown. From attending grade school on High Street, to being sent away to a Virginia prep school and later Wellesley College, and then returning to the family farm with her husband Sandy after a professional life in Pittsburgh, Ann’s collective memory of fun times and tough times is both entertaining and moving.

Book Bites: Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee by Jeff Himmelman


Jeff Himmelman’s new biography of former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee will be hard to resist for most news addicts. It might have something to do with the suppressed envy many of us have for someone capable of responding to a disgruntled reader’s complaint with the salutation “Dear Asshole.” But it’s more likely that we all know Bradlee has lived one of the most extraordinarily charmed lives of any late twentieth century journalist, who has magically showed up at in the right place at the right time for most of his adult life.

So there might be some minor satisfaction in reading Himmelman’s account that Bradlee’s luck didn’t always break his way. The book also contains more than a handful of Bradlee tales from JFK to Katherine Graham that makes it worth the candle.

And yet, Himmelman’s book might also comes across as surprisingly off-putting for many.

While the author had the support and cooperation of Ben Bradlee and wife, Sally Quinn, in writing the book (and in many ways was considered part of the family after working with them and their son on a book of his health challenges a few years ago) the end result resembles at times the legendary betrayal of Babe Paley at the hands of her former best friend, Truman Capote, in his last novel, Answered Prayers.

All too often, Himmelman shares cringe worthy anecdotes from a family’s private life, which seem to serve little purpose other than to embarrass Bradlee and his family.

For example, his decision to document a strained telephone conversation between Bradlee and one of his adult children from a previous marriage about money troubles brings very little to the table except to highlight the author’s rather transparent contempt for his subject.  Sadly, there are too many moments in the book like this one to take this as a serious biography. What a shame.

Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee by Jeff Himmelman
Random House

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