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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Voter Apathy Continues in City of Frederick, Md. Election

George Wenschhof

The readers of my website know I have been a proponent of moving the City of Frederick election to coincide with the Presidential election. This move would save money, remove questions surrounding where polling stations are located and more importantly, more than double voter turnout. My numerous columns on the subject are linked in the right hand margin of my home page.

This election continues the trend of very few voters participating on primary and general election days. The 17% turnout in the primary on September 15 included about a 20% Democratic vote which was 20% down from the 25% Democratic turnout in 2005. In 2005, it was former mayor Ron Young who successfully challenged incumbent Jennifer Dougherty only to lose in the general election to political unknown Republican Jeff Holtzinger.

While Jason Judd beat Jennifer Dougherty in the primary 59-35%, he only received 1,672 of the 15,118 registered Democratic voters which is only about 11%. Receiving 11% of the registered Democratic votes is hardly a mandate. It was no better on the Republican side as Randy McClement easily beat Ron Tobin; who had withdrawn prior to the primary, 72-21%. McClement's 1,099 votes were from a total of 9,825 registered Republicans which is also only 11%.

The mayoral race typically leads the interest of the voters as the mayor is who runs the city government on a day to day basis and the alderman are the elective legislative body. Adding to what is already a predictable low voter turnout are two mayoral candidates that could hardly be described as charismatic. Unfortunately, neither Democrat Jason Judd or Republican Randy McClement have exhibited spirited personalities, taken a strong position on a issue or proposed ideas that will inspire new voters to go to the polls.

As a result, you can assume no more than 33% or 10,000 of the approximately 31.200 registered voters (pre-primary) will go to the polls on November 3.

This is no longer acceptable and it is finally time for a change. We must demand from the incoming mayor and board that they take immediate action to change the city election date to coincide with the presidential election cycle. When I interviewed Jason Judd prior to the primary, he said he would support changing the city election date to coincide with the presidential election cycle - you can read that interview here. If elected, we need to hold him to this promise.

In addition, it is time to have an in depth discussion on the creation of aldermanic election districts which is a logical extension from the existing Neighborhood Advisory Councils (NACs). I also proposed aldermanic election districts in 1997, only to be shot down by the "establishment and staus quo" politicos who warned of Chicago style politics coming to Frederick if aldermen were elected by Districts.

My argument then is the same as it is today, which is the city boundaries are growing so fast, many voters have trouble identifying with living within a city or even knowing their city elected representatives. Jennifer Dougherty, when she campaigned for mayor in 2001 often pointed out at "House Meet and Greets" she agreed with my idea of aldermanic districts and if elected would propose and implement Neighborhood Advisory Councils. She was elected and she did implement the NACs. The 2009 incoming mayor and board would also be well advised to take the time to discuss the creation of aldermanic districts.

Representative Democracy is a wonderful way to govern. However, it works best when citizens vote. It is past time for elected city officials to take the necessary actions to improve democracy in the City of Frederick.


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Anonymous said...

Voter apathy in our Municipal elections is deplorable, but if they were changed to coincide with Presidential elections I wouldn't bet the farm that it would solve the problem.

On a Presidential ballot there can be candidates for up to six parties plus write-ins. There are three or more parties with a candidate for Representative in Congress. There are judges running for election or re-election. Now add in the Board of Education candidates plus write-ins. Finally we usually will find several questions, Amendments, or any number of other long-winded resolutions that we are asked to read and vote on.

Does anyone honestly think that by the time a voter has completed the above they are going to pay much attention to the local candidates running for Mayor and Alderman?

It's a sad fact that many voters in a Presidential election pay heed only to the President and do not bother to vote for anything or anyone else listed on the ballot.

Then there are those who do vote the entire ballot, but haven't paid any attention to the local issues or candidates and so if they vote at all, they are uninformed.

Putting the Mayor and Aldermen on a Presidential ballot will not, in my opinion, improve our Municipal election.

Anonymous said...

you have lumped the state elections with the presidential election. In Maryland in 2010 the Board of Education, County Commissioners, Congress, and all state positions are on the ballot. A very crowded ballot and a good reason not to add city election to this election cycle.

In the 2012 presidential election there will only be one U.S. Senate seat and one congressional seat on the ballot in addition to the president and it makes sense to add city election to this election cycle.