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Sunday, October 20, 2013

What if you held an election and no one showed up to vote?

George Wenschhof

Sadly, with only two weeks to go until The City of Frederick election, we are about to find out.

I can confidently predict 10% or less of the 36,539 registered voters (as of January 1, 2013) will determine who the next mayor will be on November 5 and the mayor elect will not receive a majority of the vote.

City election law does not require a mayoral candidate to receive a majority of the vote. A runoff election between the top two finishers in a multiple candidate race, to ensure a majority vote, will not happen.

The three way race between incumbent Republican mayor Randy McClement, Democratic alderman Karen Young and unaffiliated Jennifer Dougherty has me predicting the winner will receive between 37-41% of the vote.

Assuming 22% of the registered voters go to the polls (the likely turnout based on past history), the winner will have been elected by only 9.1% of the registered voters, or 3,296 votes.  This represents just 5% of the estimated city population of 66,382.

For more years than I want to admit, I have been banging the drum to move the city election to coincide with the presidential election cycle.  The rationale is that voter participation would more than triple from the current anemic 22% average.  The bonus for taxpayers is the cost savings for the city would be in the $200,000 range and voters would go to polls in schools where they are accustomed to casting their ballot.

But, as most understand today, rational thinking does not often prevail in politics.  The naysayers main theme is the local election would be drummed out by the presidential election.

This is an interesting argument when so few voters are paying attention now. 

The other prevalent statement from opposition to a change in election cycle is the voters would not be as “informed”.

This argument is worrisome because it sounds eerily similar to the institution of the “poll tax” and the tests given to keep certain voters from the polls many years ago during the Jim Crow days. 

Of course, there is nothing in our constitution that requires a voter be “informed” when they go to the polls, or for that matter, a candidate be “informed” when they run for office.  I often wonder how these folks who make this argument determine the voters who are presently voting are “informed”.

Further confusing the change to coincide with the presidential election cycle are those few who clamor for nonpartisan or open elections, when nonpartisan data shows both reduce voter turnout.

Nonetheless, these collective arguments have been successful to date, primarily due to natural resistance to change.

In addition, why would the few people who are currently voting and determining the elected officials in the city want to give up their influence? 

What is known is that the national average of voter turnout for municipalities who hold off-year elections is 25%.

There is no current cry or political support to change the election cycle, so do not expect it to happen anytime soon.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, this allows less than 10% of the registered voters to determine the mayor of The City of Frederick.

Two hundred years of being wrong, doesn’t make it right.

Stay tuned.
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