Sifting through the rubble of the primary elections in Maryland leaves one with the same feeling you get when you prepare for a huge party that went wrong. You buy all the trimmings, pay for a good rock band and then find out only your mother and her two spinster friends with bad dentures showed up to eat.
The turnout for primary election day in Maryland and Montgomery County was nothing short of deplorable.
On a sunny, warm day in June with little else to worry about, a little more than 16 percent of the registered voters in Montgomery County showed up to vote. Montgomery County, by percentage, had the fewest registered voters cast ballots of any county in the state.
Statewide, accord to Donna Duncan, the assistant deputy for election policy at the Maryland State Board of Elections, only 20.48 percent of the registered voters across the state bothered to take the time to cast a ballot on primary election day. The best turnout came on the eastern shore in Kent and Talbot county where 30 and 35 percent of the registered voters, respectively, bothered to take the time to exercise their rights as citizens.
This came as no surprise to me. The Sentinel sent three teams of reporters to conduct exit polling at 30 different precincts. In some cases when our staff arrived at the polls it was if the polls weren’t even open. By mid-morning, in some polling place the turnout was fewer than a dozen voters.
Tomorrow and in the days following there will be much wailing, rending of hair and gnashing of teeth as a hue and cry will tumble across the line declaring what a horrible government we have.
People will claim our representatives are shallow minions of the great Satan whose hands are in the back pockets of developers and other cash mongers who are only too ready to give our elected representatives a reach around in the form of campaign contributions in order to secure whatever special interest project the contributor wants to support.
On the Federal level people will gripe about our representatives being out of touch with the electorate. At the state level we will complain about being over-taxed, over regulated and at the mercy of people who have no idea the struggles being endured by the average taxpayer and small business man.
In this there seems to be a complete disconnect. We live, in short, in a very schizophrenic society.
On the one hand we don’t participate in government and on the other hand we gripe about the government we get – when we have the ability to determine the course of action of our government by exercising the ultimate control of hiring or firing those who represent us.
It is as if we own a business and are complaining about our employees stealing from us, but don’t fire those responsible for destroying our business.
It simply makes no sense.
Look at it another way only slightly more than 100,000 people cast a ballot in Montgomery County on June 24. That’s less than 10,000 people more than attend a football game at Fed Ex Field to watch the Washington Red Bellies play a football game when the house is packed. So every time we watch Romo choke as the Dallas Cow Pokes lose in the final seconds, or every time the New York Giants come into town to kick our butts and stadiums if full, if you’re there then take a look around.
Would you want that guy dressed up with a pig’s nose glued to his face, decked out in red makeup and singing the local fight song as he swills his beer and lets loose with a string of flatulence decide your life for you?
Well, that is what you do when you refuse to step into a voting booth. For those who say one man can’t make a difference there can be no better example of how in error that sentiment truly is; for without exercising your right to vote you give one man the power to make a decision for 8-10 other people. Put that minority together and suddenly it makes perfect sense why our country is in deplorable shape – we don’t care!
This hasn’t always been the case. While voter turnout has steadily declined since the beginning of the century, just 20 years ago in the 1994 primary elections more than 40 percent of the registered voters turned out to exercise their rights in Montgomery County.
I don’t know what it will take to encourage greater participation among the electorate. Some have said an open primary would do the trick. Maybe, but if high taxes, a suffocating governmental atmosphere and a stagnant economy combined with a tepid nightlife isn’t enough to get you off your butt and into the voting booth won’t do it, then I really am at a loss to see what will.
Perhaps we should close all businesses on Election Day, declare it a national holiday and give voters gift certificates to Hooters or tickets to an NFL game if they vote. More guys would show up, I’m sure.