In the last gubernatorial election in Maryland, in 2014, only 35.3% of Baltimore’s registered voters voted.
The last time the city voted on a mayor was in 2011. At that election, only 13% of registered voters actually voted. More people voted in the primary election the preceeding September, where about 23% voted to choose the party candidates would who compete in November, but even 23% of eligible voters is not exactly a significant representation of all the people in this city.
Why does this matter?
Because, even in the second decade of the 21st century, voting still matters. Yes, we can shout and interrupt and protest an tweet and join groups and talk and even riot, but in the end our elected leaders typically don’t change by any means other than an election. Maybe someday we will have another form of government, but right now we are stuck with a democracy, in which we the people vote on who we want to run our government. End of story. (For background on this, listen to the CD of the Broadway musical “Hamilton”).
I hear lots of people say that if they don’t like the candidates running for an election, they will simply not vote. Do they hear themselves? Do they really think they are making a “statement” by not voting? What are they saying with that action? They reject democracy? They don’t understand how it works? Or, despite their pronouncements to the contrary, they really don’t want to do anything to make a change?
Voter turnout in Baltimore City is, frankly, abysmal. In that 2014 gubernatorial election, Baltimore had the lowest turnout of any county jurisdiction in Maryland—yet Baltimore City has the 4th largest population. (For purposes of these figures, Baltimore City is listed as a separate county.) Is the current governor, elected by a fraction of our eligible voting population, really the best choice for city residents? Well, by not voting, we got exactly what we asked for. It’s too late to complain, though many people do.
In the 2008 presidential election, 68% of eligible Baltimoreans voted—68%! No doubt motivated by the candidacy of Barack Obama. Yet in 2012, only 21.7% got to the polls. What happened? Maybe everyone presumed Obama would be re-elected, or perhaps they were no longer interested in who would become president.
This city needs to work hard to get people to the polls in April and November. In April, this city will choose ONE of the 13 people who are currently running as mayoral candidates for the Democratic party. And that candidate has a good chance of being elected as Mayor in November, if historical trends hold. Getting to the polls in April is just as important as voting in November—and that ballot will also determine the next President.
Who should be the next mayor of Baltimore? Well, that’s another matter—you might actually have to do some research, go to some events, talk to people, to figure out whom to vote for. But one thing is absolutely true—this mayor will make significant changes in our
city. We are nowhere close to recovering from last year’s riots and the underlying causes. This next mayor will lead us to positive change, if we choose the right person.
What if people don’t vote?
Some groups are working now to make sure people get to the polls in April and November. One organization, Black Girls Vote, is putting together an entire ecosystem to help people, especially young black women, get to the polls. They are arranging rides to polling places, offering babysitting and other care assistance, and registering voters. I applaud this effort and others—they understand that voting matters. And EVERYONE must vote. An elected person is not representative of the people unless the people actually vote and make their wishes known.
Get to the polls on April 26, 2016 for the primary, and November 8 for the election. Make sure all the eligible persons in your household are registered and are able to vote. Offer rides to people who may need them. Encourage the seniors you know to get out and vote—and help them if they need it.
Voter registration for the 2016 election cycle ends on April 5. I am a voter registration volunteer. If you aren’t registered but would like to be, contact me. If you or your business or your group or your family or your neighborhood wants to hold a voter registration drive, I will help.
This city has over 300,000 registered voters. We are doing a disservice to the people of this city if we don’t do what we can to help everyone vote. This is easiest way to give a voice to all kinds of people, young and old, poor and rich, black and white. But if you don’t vote, I don’t want to listen to you complain about our leadership. You missed your chance.