Why didn't you go to the polls?

September 25, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

In Maryland's Sept. 10 primary, Washington County voters had the dubious distinction of setting a statewide record for something they didn't do - vote.

Just 23 percent of the registered voters here - 13,644 out of 59,738 on the rolls - bothered to cast ballots, the lowest percentage of any county in the state. This despite several hot local issues and a primary for state comptroller in which a last-minute challenger made a move to knock off the legendary William Donald Schaefer.

In a primary vote a day before the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, some of us expected that the still-vivid memories of freedom under attack might prompt more citizens to exercise their right to vote.

But it didn't happen and darned if I can figure out why. So I'm holding a contest to get readers to help me understand. In 100 words or less, tell me why you don't vote.


I'm not looking for someone who didn't get to the polls on Sept. 10 because they had a sick child or an auto accident. I want to hear from the people who never vote, who don't think it's worth their time.

The prize for the best entry is $25, paid out of my pocket to you or your favorite charity. Send entries to Non-voter Contest, Editorial Page Editor, The Herald Mail, P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, MD., 21741. The deadline is Oct. 1.

One more thing: Don't tell me you're trying to avoid jury duty. In case you haven't heard, if you've got a Maryland driver's license, you could be called on to serve, even if you're not a registered voter.


If you'd like to learn more about the candidates, you'll have several chances to see them in action between now and the November election. The Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters are both holding candidate forums.

The chamber's schedule is as follows:

- On Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 7: 30 a.m., Maryland senate candidates will appear at Hagerstown's Sheraton Four Points Hotel on the Dual Highway.

- On Wednesday, Oct. 16 at 7:30 a.m., Washington County Commissioner candidates will appear, also at the Four Points.

- On Wednesday, Oct. 23, at 7:30 a.m., candidates for Washington County delegate to the Maryland General Assembly will appear at the Clarion Inn, formerly the Ramada Inn, on the Dual Highway

The chamber forums cost $15 for members and $25 for non-members, a fee which also gets you breakfast. They are being co-sponsored by St. Lawrence Cement and Antietam Cable Television, which will tape and re-broadcast them at a later time.

The LWV forums will be held on this schedule:

- On Friday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m., county commissioner candidates will appear in Room 6 of the Hagerstown Community College Valley Mall campus.

- On Friday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m., candidates for the Maryland General Assembly will appear, also at HCC's Valley Mall campus.


Some years ago, when mortgage interest rates began to drop, my wife and I decided to refinance our home to save money. But there was a hitch - our water source was a cistern, which a man with a big truck came to fill every other week.

The bank didn't like that; its officials would only refinance if we had a well dug. The numbers still worked, so we did it. We thought little about it until this past summer, when record numbers of wells went dry. For a while, I was even emptying the basement dehumidifier into a watering can to give our parched tomato patch a drink.

And then during the recent Antietam re-enactment, I spoke to a man from upstate New York who was here volunteering with a Civil War Roundtable.

In his area, he said, a new subdivision in which all the homes depended on wells began to experience one well failure after another. They ended up pooling their resources to form a municipal water system, which employs water police to patrol at night to detect illegal lawn sprinklers, all at considerable cost.

I mention this because of all the talk of a building moratorium in areas of Washington County where there isn't a municipal water system.

It might not be necessary if prospective homeowners were told they must take the same risk I do: If your well fails, it will be up to you, not the county government, to dig a new one.


Did you see the large newspaper ad placed by the Landlord & Property Owners' Association of Washington County? If you missed it, it says that great calamities will take place if Hagerstown passes a rental-property inspection ordinance. It also published all the elected officials' home phone numbers, which, if I were one of them, would be reason enough to vote for it.

Other Maryland cities - including Cumberland, for Pete's sake - have had such a system for years. And while the landlords have legitimate concerns about the possibility of nit-picky enforcement, this hysterical approach isn't the way to address them.

The truth is that Hagerstown's property tax base hasn't kept pace with expenses because too many rental property owners didn't keep up their properties because they didn't have to. Change is tough, but it's time for Hagerstown to come into the modern era.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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