Still Not Voting After All These Years
Marylands March 2 primary offered people few surprises and, continuing a woeful trend, drew few voters. In Anne Arundel County, 60,025, slightly over one-quarter of registered voters, came to the polls. In Calvert, a higher 36.45 percent voted.
Why do so few Marylanders care whose hand guides their future? Many who stay home on election day argue theres not a dimes worth of difference between the two parties. So if they register at all its as Independents. For their conscientious stand, they get disenfranchised in primary elections, where differences among candidates are clearest.
What will get Americans out to vote? As Mark Twain observed, well vote for whiskey.
On the March 2 ballot, strong spirits were admittedly few and strong challenges absent in many races. There were plenty of challengers, both for Barbara Mikulskis seat in the U.S. Senate and for the four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives allotted to Anne Arundel and Calvert counties. But most challengers outfitted such small campaigns that voters hardly knew there was a game afield. (The reason congressional incumbents nearly always win is a topic for another day.)
Spirits had been strong in the Democratic presidential nomination campaign, but by the time Marylanders got to vote, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry had won the race. Even so, in Calvert, Democratic spirit was high enough that their turnout was 24.26 percent, compared to 9.92 percent among Republicans, who had no presidential contest.
Theres not much to be done about an election or voters short on spirit.
But there is something to be done when antiquated election laws keep people away from the polls, as they do in Maryland.
Its bad enough that in Maryland only Democrats and Republicans can vote in primaries. In many states, voters cast ballots regardless of party in whatever races they find appealing.
For instance in Wisconsin, known for progressive politics since the LaFollette era nearly a century ago, Republicans and Independents happily voted in the Democratic presidential primary last month.
Nothing subversive happened: Kerry won after a full-throated public-policy debate about corporate export of manufacturing jobs.
But Marylands system is much different. Like clubs requiring secret handshakes and whispered shibboleths, the two major party primaries are closed to outsiders.
Maryland voting laws gets stranger still.
Marylands Democrats and Republicans have gone to such lengths to protect themselves that even in non-partisan races for judges, only registered Democrats and Republicans are permitted to vote.
In Anne Arundel County, for instance, more than 40,000 Independents and Green Party members couldnt take part in judicial elections. The same historic anomaly also kept non-major party members from picking supposedly non-partisan judges in contentious judicial elections in St. Marys, Baltimore and Frederick counties.
Yet school board elections welcomed voters of all persuasions. In Calvert Countys first district, for example, 156 Independents contributed to the election of Jeffrey D. Borgholthaus and Frank Theodore Parish.
As you read, the American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the constitutionality of the exclusions in races for circuit court. These are big-stakes decisions, where eventually winners get to keep their seats for 15 years. If the challenge is upheld, Anne Arundels judicial election might have to be rerun.
We agree that party-only voting for nonpartisan offices belongs on historys scrap heap. The General Assembly ought to think more broadly about modernizing primaries. In an era of electronic voting, it makes no sense to follow World War II election law.
That said, heres a short-term self-help remedy for headstrong Independent voters disenfranchised at primaries. Theres plenty of time before each primary to change your registration to the party closest to your thinking that year. Pay attention, and youll notice that this is a year when billions of dollars worth of differences separate the parties on a host of issues from war to jobs to civil rights. If you wont change yourself, how can you get your government to change?
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