Those who don't vote lose right to complain

April 01, 2012

Tuesday, party-affiliated Marylanders go to the polls to choose from among a handful of potential leaders. Here in Western Maryland, most of the attention will be on the 6th District congressional race, which appears to be truly competitive for the first time in two decades.

Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett is being challenged by a logjam of competitors from his own party, while the Democrats are experiencing a spirited primary of their own.

Redistricting is largely responsible for the outpouring of candidates — many who felt they had no chance against the incumbent feel as if they do now, based on new boundary lines.

While we take no position in the primaries, we do today take a strong stand on both voter angst and voter turnout.

Congress, lawyers and journalists are accustomed to residing near barrel’s bottom in terms of general popularity. But even factoring this into the equation, the public’s dissatisfaction with the current Congress is startling.

During the past congressional term, cooperation came to a standstill, and the two standing parties were unable to come to agreement on even the smallest of details.

Congressional approval rates reflect how the voting public feels about this gridlock.

But it is one thing to complain to a pollster, and quite another to walk into a voting booth and do something about it. It is perhaps true that 90 percent of the people disapprove of the job being done in Congress — but it is equally true that, much as some might wish it, we will not be voting 90 percent of our congressional representatives out of office this year.

Typically, we like our own representatives, but believe it’s everyone else’s who should go.

Some of us, obviously, need to look our own choices in the eye and ask ourselves whether we have chosen well. And of course it goes without saying that we cannot choose well when we do not choose at all.

Perhaps polls would be better served if they only queried people who had actually gone to the polls in the first place. It strikes us as dishonest when nonvoters complain about the status quo. Some will argue that our choices have become so poor that a nonvote is really a vote of dissatisfaction with the entire system.

We understand this. We also understand that not every candidate can be Jefferson.

We believe it is our duty as citizens of a democracy to vote for the best available candidate, and if that candidate performs poorly the same citizens should write to him or her to make their viewpoints known. If every citizen demanded better government, chances are we’d get it. Instead, it is the human condition to want to turn our backs and wash our hands of the whole process.

This election, we would urge that even those who are “fed up with the system” become involved. There remains ample opportunity to become educated. Candidate information is available at and we encourage voters to review the online guide created by the League of Women Voters of Washington County. To see the guide, go to, click “on your ballot,” select Maryland when given an option to select a state, click submit. Then scroll down to the header “candidate and ballot information,” and click on Washington County to open up the local guide. It’s worth a few extra clicks.

When you’re sifting through the information and candidate statements, look for real ideas, not symbolism. Look for difficult solutions, not easy solutions. Look for someone who wants to move us all forward instead of attacking others.

And finally, of course, follow it up with your vote. Yes it might be one vote in one race in one state. But a million, 5 million or a 50 million can’t be reached without first counting one.

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