“We were one of the first states in the nation to allow the use of social media platforms as a campaign tool. We crafted careful and deliberate regulations with stakeholders, while also ensuring proper disclaimer requirements in those pieces. It has become a model for the rest of the nation.”
For over sixteen years, Jared DeMarinis has become an invaluable asset to the State of Maryland. As the Director of Candidacy and Campaign Finance for the Maryland State Board of Elections, DeMarinis is responsible for the administration of state candidacy and campaign finance laws, as well as the implementation of electoral policy in Maryland.
Before joining the Maryland State Board of Elections in 2005, DeMarinis was trained as an attorney and worked on several gubernatorial and senatorial campaigns in New Jersey, where he is originally from. DeMarinis has traveled to Armenia, Azerbaijan, North Macedonia, and the Bahamas to assist in international elections as well. “I’ve always been a part of campaigns … and it was just a natural fit to kind of move from being, I would say, a player in the game, to now being a referee in the game,” said DeMarinis.
DeMarinis has overseen the State’s most expensive and complicated election cycles and describes how when he first started at the State Board of Elections, “… gubernatorial elections were not the tens of millions of dollars that you see [now].” In Maryland, he has seen a significant increase in how much more candidates are raising and spending on elections, with the cost of elections exponentially increasing each year. With all the money flowing in, it is extremely important to ensure that it is being spent accurately and the source of money is transparent to the public. Maryland has developed a strong disclosure system with a strict enforcement mechanism to compel compliance, according to DeMarinis. Maryland was a leader in implementing new campaigning technologies, allowing campaigns to reach a wider audience by allowing the use of social media platforms as a campaign tool. DeMarinis and his team crafted thoughtful regulations with stakeholders, ensuring that adequate transparency and compliance are always a priority and fundamental to all Board of Elections decisions.
In the midst of working hard and preparing for the primaries, overseeing the implementation of newly redistricted congressional and legislative districts, and being a single father, DeMarinis generously took the time to answer some of my questions about his role at the State Board of Elections, and what he thinks about the upcoming gubernatorial election.
What brought you to the Maryland area?
I am originally from New Jersey, and what brought me down here was working on campaigns. I decided to move down to Washington DC before the presidential election way back when in 2004. Ever since then, after that election, I found my current position which is the Director of Candidacy and Campaign Finance for the Maryland State Board of Elections, and subsequently moved out to the Annapolis area to stay, live, and enjoy Maryland! I’ve really enjoyed the State and have fallen in love with it, and I enjoy being an advisor in the legislative process and being able to craft things to make Maryland a better State.
Can you explain the role that you have played throughout your years at the State Board of Elections?
Basically, I administer all the rules and regulations regarding campaign finance and candidacy for Maryland, and that also covers county elections. The only thing it does not cover is municipal elections, but we do cover Baltimore City. And you know, my current role here is to not just administer the law, but also help, I would say, the General Assembly craft policy decisions and legislation to further implement the goals of disclosure, and help the electorate be informed while making decisions at the ballot box. I’ve been doing this now for over 16 years! And the growth of the campaign finance regulations and rules in disclosure has increased, as well as enforcement during this time. I think it shows the trajectory of the amount of outside money that has been starting to come into these elections. When I started here, elections were not cheap, but they were low dollar thresholds… gubernatorial elections were not the tens of millions of dollars that you see now.
We saw a major uptick where now candidates are raising and spending up to $20 million for a gubernatorial election. You see this also in State Senate races, and House of Delegate races; the amount of money that these are now, are hundreds of thousands of dollar affairs, rather than just $50-$60 thousand. And that’s not just the cost of living, but the cost of elections period, which are exponentially more expensive. Ensuring that the money is being spent correctly, where the treasurers have a fiduciary duty to ensure that it’s going toward electoral purposes are both more important now. And the electorate must be informed of who the donors are so that they can make the correct decisions at those ballot boxes.
Maryland has instituted a robust disclosure program for independent expenditures, super PACS, timely reporting, and etcetera. With all that, there is an enforcement mechanism to compel compliance. If the penalties are minimal, then people just kind of ignore them and pay the fines. Additionally, I think Maryland has also been a leader in dealing with new technologies in this field and allowing campaigns to kind of expand their reach. We were one of the first in the nation to allow the use of social media platforms as a campaign tool. We crafted careful and deliberate regulations with stakeholders, while also ensuring proper disclaimer requirements in those pieces. It was almost like a model for the rest of the nation. And we’ve always been a kind of leader in that social media landscape by making sure that disclosure and compliance are a priority, which has been paramount for us and all our decisions. I’ve always been a part of campaigns and campaign life, and it was just a natural fit to kind of move from being a player in the game, to now being a referee in the game. By having that, and understanding the terminology, how money moves and flows in campaigns, where the pressure points are, and how to get the right disclosure, is all extremely beneficial.
Is there anything that you believe is going to be different with this election, as opposed to the last one that we went through?
So, the election was delayed to July, and with the redistricting, I think now what you’re going to see is the new norm for elections. 2020 recalibrated the use of mail-in ballots. Prior to 2020, what you had historically was at least maybe a third vote early, and 5-6% vote with mail-in ballots. Now what happened in 2020 was that the primaries were 100% mail-in, and the general was a hybrid, so what you saw was 50% vote by mail, and 50% vote in person. While I do not think we’re going to have the same 50/50 split that you had in 2020, I think that this is going to recalibrate people. I believe that people have seen some benefits to voting by mail and the convenience of it and will not go back. Just like when they saw the convenience of early voting! It took us a while to figure out the first iteration of it, but now, we know about a third of the people vote early. It is not going to be the high threshold of 50% because people want to get back to a new normal. But it’s definitely not going to be the same 5 to 6% in the past. That’s going to set the new stage for campaigns in the future to now understand that you don’t wait until election day to start your campaigning.
What topic do you think is going to be the focus of attention during this Election?
We are never going to go back to pre-COVID election ideas. This is not sci-fi anymore or hypothetical, you know, it’s real. And it’s what scientists have always said, it’s going to likely occur again. So now … I think that’s the vision for all these candidates. Whatever the topic is, it’s now just kind of resetting the new normal type of deal and going “oh this is how we’re going to respond and react”.
What excites you most about the upcoming election?
I guess there are always a couple of things that excite me. One, I like elections just in general! It’s exciting because, unlike every other profession, there is kind of a finality to this. When I was working on campaigns, you won, or you lost. Then, in election administration, there is always some new and exciting cutting-edge technology that is being developed and the use of it by campaigns has always excited me because of its rapid growth. It is no longer just a TV or radio ad to communicate or direct mail pieces. It’s the use of social media platforms and how to use them in an effective manner. It’s so viral, and it’s cheap! So that is pretty amazing. And when I did international elections, including when I was over in former Soviet republics, the use of social media platforms to communicate, to get around, really kind of opened my eyes. And what excites me most about the election is having the campaigns come to me with new ideas on how to communicate or how they fundraise, so that it’s kind of like a new concept of a first impression, and so, it allows me to kind of expand and see where the natural progression kind of goes with it. Campaigns are going to be very cutting edge, they’re going to try to communicate, and push the boundaries as much as possible, which they should. That is where I come in: making sure that the policy of disclosure, and attributions, are paramount in any sort of conversations that they have, so that the electorate can know who they are getting the information from, and can trust the source of that information, and then make an informed decision at the ballot box. There are serious ramifications to a person’s constitutional right to vote. That’s kind of how I judge my success and the best way to move forward.
By: Valerie Skvirsky, Government Relations Associate