Quick poll. Did you vote yesterday? Statistics say that nearly three-quarters of registered voters in the City of Baltimore did not.
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Of course, there are reasons for that. Baltimore is overwhelmingly Democratic—about 78 percent of us vote left, and there is no compelling race in the primary to force us to the polls. I’m betting the percentage of Republican voters who go to the polls is far greater than the percentage of Democrats, many of whom decided to skip the pretty-much-already-decided races in the city.
Election day can get lonely for volunteers and candidates in the city. The Maryland State Legislature’s decision to move city elections to presidential election years will improve turnout and save money, but it doesn’t go far enough—turnout for state elections is higher than for national elections.
But voting yesterday did have its moments—I noticed that three out of five election judges at my poll are Maeve Binchy fans. I got a chance to vote for a couple of neighbors running for delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. (have fun, fellows! Try the hot Krispy Kremes on Woodlawn Road!)
And I got a cool sticker.
Getting city residents out to vote is difficult, partly because there isn’t a workable two-party system here, partly because the more we vote the more things stay the same, and mostly because we know that the politicians are setting things up to suit themselves, not the voters who hire them. Anyone who took even a short look at this year’s legislative redistricting map knows that. The politicians chose the voters most likely to return them to office.
Which brings us to the Maryland State Legislature, which on Monday approved a plan to change the date of Baltimore City elections.
City elections are held in an odd year, and they stand alone. This probably was a good idea when the city had more than a million residents, but not now. The September 2011 primary election drew fewer than 75,000 voters citywide, and in the city the primary election is the biggie because the city does not have enough Republican voters to elect anyone to City Council, let alone Mayor.
The state pols, who have control over the date of the city election, voted to align it with the presidential election—so the next city election will be in 2016. This suits the politicians two ways. First, it gives the city officials elected in 2011 an extra year in office. And second, it maintains a situation where state pols can take a crack at city office, and vice versa, without giving up their current office.
Aligning the city election with the feds is the wrong choice for voters for a few reasons. First, I think voters in a couple of districts, one eastside, one west, would like another crack sooner, rather than later, at unseating entrenched incumbents who won by a whisker in 2011.
Second, the turnout is always greater for the gubernatorial elections. You can look it up.
Third, a politician who wants another seat should give up the seat he has to run for another. It creates a little churn in the legislature and at City Hall, and that is a good thing. And it gives voters a wider choice of candidates.
The decision to move the city election to 2016 is a good step—a good first step. Let’s make the terms for that election two years and move the election again, to 2018, and thereafter every four years. Let’s have a true state and local election. Think of the voters for once.
by Jacqueline Watts