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Monday, January 5, 2009

City Of Frederick, MD Election Date Change Update

George Wenschhof Bio

I published a column on November 28, 2008 entitled "Time to Move Election Date for City of Frederick, MD". To recap, in this column I proposed moving the election date to coincide with the Presidential election, stating the dismal 32% voter turnout in the city general election is unacceptable. It seemed reasonable to move the City of Frederick election date to coincide with the Presidential election as the voter turnout was more than twice the amount of the city turnout.

The Presidential election is also less cluttered with candidates than the state/county election year. In addition, the change would most likely result in a cost savings. If the current Mayor and Board of Aldermen approved this charter amendment change of the election date, the incoming Mayor and Board would serve three years and as of 2012, the next Presidential election, their terms would be the traditional four year terms.

This is not a partisan issue as City of Frederick Alderman Alan Imhoff (R) has also long held held this view.

It was a comment: "Great idea George! Have you talked to Jeff or the BoA about this." left by "Mike" at the end of that column that spurred me to take the following steps. I thought it would be interesting to write about this process as I attempt to move this issue forward for discussion by the City of Frederick Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

You are also welcome to leave comments/suggestions by clicking on "Comments" at the end of the column.

The discussion of moving the City of Frederick election date has not received, to my recollection, discussion in a mayor and board workshop or has it been placed on the agenda at a mayor and board meeting.

I believe the discussion should take place and prior to contacting the Mayor and Board I figured I would begin to discuss the issue with a few people and see what was their reaction. In writing a column entitled "New Wave of Democrats Eye Mayor for The City of Frederick, MD in 2009", I asked both Democrats Jason Judd and Jack Lynch their opinion on the change of election date. I point out in the column they both supported the idea and would have no problem with if elected Mayor, serving a shortened first term of three years.

Jason Judd liked an option of having the City primary date of September stay the same. The primary for President and Congress usually is early February or March and is determined by the state legislature. Then both the City and the Presidential race would have a combined general election date in November.

In 2008, the Maryland primary was February 12 and this year the City of Frederick primary is scheduled for September 15. During this seven month period the city candidates as they campaigned would benefit from the heightened interest of voters generated by the Presidential election.

In a meeting with with a local senior Republican official on another matter, I brought up the idea of moving the city election date and they agreed, stating "it just made common sense" and went on to say they were not aware of the issue receiving any discussion by the local Republican central committee.

Later, at a unrelated scheduled meeting with Burke Miller, the President of the newly formed Frederick County Young Democrats, I brought up the idea. He was supportive and indicated he would discuss with his group. After meeting with his group, Mr. Miller sent me an email stating their support of the idea.

I then called Bob Kresslein, the chair of the local Democratic central committee and although he was personally supportive, he obviously could not speak for the committee until the issue was discussed. As this was prior to the holidays, they would not have an opportunity to discuss until after the new year. Mr. Kresslein also indicated it was likely if the Democratic candidates in the city election were not in agreement for the change, it was doubtful the committee would take a position.

After discussing with others, all of who were in favor of the change of election date, I figured it was time to take the advice of "Mike" and contact the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

I started with a phone call to the Mayor. With it being the holiday season, I was surprised to receive a return phone call from Mayor Holtzinger on December 23. He listened politely to my suggestion and indicated his support for the idea. He spoke of Alderman Imhoff's long time support for the election date change and indicated he believed Mr. Imhoff would bring up the issue for discussion in a mayor and board workshop.

As I had not yet received a negative comment on the proposal, I emailed the proposal to the Aldermen and provided a link to the column I had written earlier on the subject. This began an email exchange between some of the Aldermen, the Mayor and myself.

Even though this was the middle of the holiday season, I immediately received a reply from Alderman Alan Imhoff (R) who indicated his long time support. He also indicated his support of non-partisan elections. The reason he felt the election date change had not moved forward was due to opposition by the local political parties and some former local officials feeling the city election would get lost in the hype of the presidential election. The other most prevalent reason he had heard was the length of time between the primary and general election.

Alderman Donna Kuzemchak (D) responded saying she was one who believed local issues would get lost if the election was held at the same time as the Presidential election. She argued the media would not cover both elections with the scrutiny necessary for people to make informed decisions at the local level.

Alderman Paul Smith (R) responded with a similar concern as Donna had expressed and felt the elections should be kept separate.

I responded to the concerns expressed by Aldermen Kuzemchak and Smith with the following points. One, the demographics in Frederick County have not to date supported the hiring by local media of reporters to cover the national election so their reporters would certainly be able to give the city election the same coverage as they provide in the current election year. Secondly, I failed to see the logic that the voters participating in a 32% voter turnout election were more informed than the voters who participate in an election with a 70% turnout. Third, as to the length of time between the primary and the general election, I pointed out an option (as Jason Judd had mentioned earlier) would be to have separate primaries and a combined general election. I followed with the voters are most engaged in a Presidential election and this would benefit the city candidates as they campaigned for office.

Mayor Jeff Holtzinger (R) weighed in saying after talking to others he did not feel the voters would do any less due diligence if the city election was held at the same time as the Presidential election. He also said "I think it is at least worth discussion and consideration by the Board. This could also potentially save the City money and would allow for the use of the schools as polling places, as schools are closed for the Presidential Election."

Alderman Smith then responded with "Saving money is an important consideration. I look forward to the discussion."

Alderman Kuzemchak then said "George,
I don't believe either Alderman Smith or I argued that the turnout wasn't lower. The argument was simply the turnout was more informed on what they were voting. I've started speaking to some people about this and find I am only getting the argument about turnout, not about how informed those voters are. Are you suggesting it would be best if we had 100% voter turnout in any election – even if those voters are simply brought to the polls and told how to vote by someone else? My argument is simply that voter knowledge is more important than voter turnout. I certainly don't want to hit the point where you have to raise a ton of money to run for Alderman just so the public might possibly see your name somewhere and remember it. With my name or Paul's name, that helps – for opposite reasons – but not so much for others.

Again, I look forward to the discussion.

To which I responded with the following:
Hi Donna,

Thanks for your recent response. However, I believe it is impossible to argue that the voters in a lower turnout election are more informed voters than the voters in a higher voter turnout election. More importantly, I believe in encouraging high voter turnout in all elections, which is among the important tenets of our representative democracy.

Thank you again for responding and I look forward to the discussion of this issue.

Happy New Year!

As Aldermen Marcia Hall (D) and David Koontz (D) had not responded to the email exchange I called both, reaching Ms. Hall and leaving a message for Mr. Koontz. Ms. Hall was basically non-committal, at one point understanding some of what Donna was saying, then saying it may make more sense to move the city election to the state/county election cycle as the issues were similar. I pointed out the state/county election cycle was already cluttered, had a lower average voter turnout than the presidential election, and to line up the current city election would require the incoming mayor and board to serve a five year term. She indicated again she had an open mind on the issue.

So that is a quick update on this important issue for The City of Frederick. I am hopeful the Mayor and Board move this issue for discussion in workshop and it receives merit for being placed on the agenda for a mayor and board meeting for further discussion and a vote. I will periodically publish updates as the discussion continues.

If you live in the City of Frederick, I would encourage you to let your elected officials know how you feel on the issue of moving the city election date to coincide with the Presidential election which would more than double the current abysmal city voter turnout. It is your opinion that is most important. Take a moment and weigh in with your thoughts.

Here is their contact information: - Jeff Holtzinger (R)
(301) 600-1380 - Marcia Hall (D)
(301) 600-1382 - David Koontz (D)
(301) 600-1386 - Alan Imhoff (R)
(301) 600-1632 - C. Paul Smith (R)
(301) 600-1863 - Donna Kuzemchak (D) (301) 600-2966
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Anonymous said...

Clearly, doubling voter participation by such an easy change is a big plus - it will help focus attention from voters who are primarily activated during national campaigns - there will be incresed volunteer activity for candidates because of the same interest - and it can save the City on costs to hold elections - win, win!

Anonymous said...

dear donna, i am so sorry that those who vote are only the most intellllllegent and smrt peoples, what r u worried about, does that mean that only smrt people votes for you, me thinks knot. the more peoples that vote you may be in trouble, we are smrter then you thimks, sorry to sea u go,,,

Unknown said...

George, this makes good sense to me. It would double the turnout of voters--that means we're finding new ways to bring people into the public life of the city--and it'll save city taxpayers money. Jason Judd

Anonymous said...

Guy Djoken
As the president of the Frederick County NAACP, I am supporting this initiative for the simple fact that it will more than double voter participation while lowering the cost for running the future elections.