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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Few Surprises in City of Frederick Primary Election

 George Wenschhof

While there are some provisional and mail in ballots to be counted, the outcome of The City of Frederick primary election is pretty well set.  Incumbent Democratic mayor Michael O’Connor (2,221) beat challengers Jennifer Dougherty (1,499), Roger Wilson (1,078) and John Funderburk (280) and will move on to the November 2 general election and likely face Republican Steven Hammrick.

Hammrick is leading Steve Garrahy by 103 votes but with only 857 Republican ballots cast and counted so far it is unlikely Garrahy will be able to make up the difference from the remaining ballots counted on Monday September 20.  The city will certify the primary election on Tuesday September 21.

Jennifer Dougherty, a perennial candidate, first ran for mayor in 1993. She won in 2001 and lost her mayoral contests since then.  Adding to her political defeats was a run for county commissioner and state senate.  She attacked O’Connor for lack of leadership and called for aldermen elected by precincts.

Incumbent alderman Roger Wilson, who faced allegations of misconduct by multiple women and a call to resign by the Frederick County State Democratic Central Committee, failed to articulate his vision for the city and although he was the top fundraiser among Democratic mayoral candidates, came in a distant third.

In the Democratic primary where five alderman advance to the general election, the winners were Katie Nash (3,636) and incumbents Derek Shackelfor (3,356), Donna Kuzemchak (3,289), Kelly Russell (3,263) and Ben MacShane (2,886).

The one surprise in the Democratic alderman primary is newcomer Katie Nash, who lost in her previous run for alderman as Republican candidate.  She is poised to join former alderman Meta Nash (no relation) and current alderman Kelly Russell who were also Republicans who changed political parties to Democratic.  Katie Nash also led in fundraising among alderman candidates.

Democratic alderman candidates Chris Sparks (1,803) and Robert Van Rens (1,498) fell short in their first run for city office.

Only two Republicans, Robert Fischer and Michelle Shay ran for alderman and will move on to the general election.

Voter turnout continued to be low in the off year city election.  Mail-in balloting was used for the first time along with in-person early voting and one in person voting poll open on election day.

The total voter turnout for this primary, to be adjusted after Monday totals are added, was 16.7%.  This compares to 13.7% in 2017 primary, 15.84% in 2013 primary and 17.98% in 2009 primary.

A bright note was Democratic voter turnout increased from 14.38% in 2017 primary to 20.6% in this primary.  Advocates for mail-in balloting will highlight this increase. 

Although, I am an advocate for mail-in balloting, voter turnout continues to be very low for the city primary and general elections.

The general election voter turnout was in 2009 – 23.75%, 2013 - 23.53% and 2017 – 21.58%.

In a city with a population of 78,000, steps should be taken to increase voter turnout. Several thousand voters should not determine city elected officials.  I have long advocated moving the city election cycle to the presidential election cycle.  Not only would this change more than double voter turnout, it would save the city money.  I have also long called for alderman elected by precincts.

I remain hopeful mail-in balloting will increase voter turnout in the November 2, 2021 general election.  Mail-in balloting is easy with Drop Box options. With the Delta variant of covid-19 continuing to be a health threat, mail-in balloting is also a healthy alternative to in-person balloting.

Nonetheless, I urge the incoming mayor and board to appoint a committee to consider additional options to mail-in balloting that will increase voter turnout in future elections.