Higher voter turnout makes democracy work better

April 07, 2012|Jake Womer

The city of Hagerstown was a clear victor in Tuesday’s primary. Whatever residents may think about the candidates, they moved toward a more representative city government.

City voter turnout this year was more than double that of the previous city primary election in 2009, and that was with no binding decisions to be made on the Democratic ballot in this year’s primary. With only five city council candidates and one mayoral candidate, all were assured of moving on to the general election. The Republican side had contested races for city council and mayor, ultimately paring one candidate from each race.

And city residents will have the opportunity to be similarly active in the general election on Nov. 6 and assure their most representative government in years when they choose one of the two remaining mayoral candidates and five of 11 city council candidates, including one unaffiliated candidate.

Overall in Washington County, voter turnout declined since the previous presidential primary in 2008, but still ranked as the second highest turnout in the state behind Kent County, according to unofficial results on the Maryland State Board of Elections website.

In 2008, voters had three driving factors that were missing from this election.

One was that both the Republican and Democratic nominations for president were contested.

On the local side was the prospect of charter home rule, which could have changed Washington County government. If approved, the charter would have replaced the five-member board of commissioners with a seven-member county council that would have been able to pass local legislation without approval by the Maryland General Assembly. The voters struck down the charter.

That year, they also had a Washington County Board of Education primary. With fewer candidates running this year, no school board primary was necessary.

That left the county’s roughly 15,000 unaffiliated voters at home Tuesday with no vote in the primary. Accordingly, unaffiliated voters were factored out of turnout calculations.

With the Democratic races for president, city council and mayor uncontested and U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin’s incumbent victory all but inevitable, Washington County Democrats seemingly had the 6th Congressional District race as their largest rallying point. After years of thumpings by incumbent GOP Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, perhaps the controversial redrawing of the 6th District was all of the motivation that Democrats needed.

Republicans, meanwhile, had a fuller slate of primary races, from president and Congress to city council and mayor.

In seven months, all of us, unaffiliated voters included, will have an overflowing slate of races and every reason to go to the polls.

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