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The Tentacle


September 26, 2003

Using The System To One's Advantage

Alan Imhoff

As voters, have we been asleep at the switch yet again?

Recently during a neighborhood dinner conversation, the subject of who will be the next Board of Education president came up. As usual the handicapping was all over the map, but the most interesting suggestion was that a "dark horse" candidate would emerge victorious.

Speculation became very animated on the possibility that Linda Naylor would garner the top spot. What was even more interesting was the reason why. According to the discussion around the table was the strong possibility that a certain minority group was using its muscle to champion their beliefs through elevation of Mrs. Naylor.

While nothing concrete was entered into the conversation as fact, the perception was that this same group initiated a well thought out and evidently successful program to get their supporters elected to a number of positions including the Board of Education. The intent, so the conversation went, is to gain the majority of all elected bodies in the county.

Since this was but the usual banter around a dinner table, you can take all this with a grain of salt, and maybe a little pepper too!

But what if it has some element of truth, could we, as voters not see through these attempts to legally gain control of decision-making bodies? Is it even possible?

Unfortunately the sad truth to both these questions is yes. On the whole, most of those eligible in this county to vote have abrogated their right to whichever group or combination of individuals who understand this apathy and use it to their advantage.

Case in point, the 2000 Census showed 195,277 people living in Frederick County. Of those 60,801 were under the age of 21 leaving 134,476 eligible to vote. As of the last check on the Elections Board Website, as of this September 3, there were 112,457 registered voters.

Assuming those eligible to vote has not changed materially since the census, it means 22,019 individuals have chosen not to register to vote. In the most recent gubernatorial election last November of those 112,457, only 57% chose to exercise their constitutional right or another 48,357 left the voting to someone else.

For those that are counting, we are now up to 70,376 disenfranchised individuals who for whatever reason are allowing others to decide their future. (We are now over 52% folks.)

Then we look at the 2002 Board of Education race. Of the approximate 64,100 individuals who could vote and actually exercised their vote, only 47.2% chose the top voter at 30,247. When you look at the four opportunities each voter had from among the eight candidates, of the 256,400 maximum number of votes, only 58.5% were cast. So again, even when voters do vote they are not always choosing to exercise their vote. In essence those 64,100 individuals legally chose to withhold 104,294 votes from the eight candidates.

There is nothing wrong with this as long as everything is done above board and within the laws governing elections. So, why even worry about it?

As Americans we believe in the fundamental principal of "majority rule," a cornerstone of our legal and political system. Yet the majority in Frederick County, at 52.3%, has chosen not to exercise participation in this fundamental principal. If I wanted to split hairs, wouldn't this mean that the majority says, by their not voting that the government is irrelevant?

But back to the matter at hand with the Board of Education. With only about 47% of the registered voters participating in choosing the four members this past November and only 47% of that number choosing the top four, it means the top vote getter only had 22.5% mandate from all registered voters.

So, if any organization or group of individuals wanted to control the Board of Education, they only needed 51% of that 30,247 or just 15,426 people to persuade to their line of thinking. In reality, if the group has an established core, for instance, Democrats or Republican who only vote Democrat or Republican respectively, it makes the job easier. Yeah, I know this race is non-partisan - right - and I'm the tooth fairy.

So, depending on how you want to read these statistics, and anyone can, like myself, use them to make a point, are we still a majority rule or are we increasingly being manipulated by those groups or individuals who understand this apathy to seek advantage over the very "silent" majority?

Back to the table talk and salt and pepper, will Linda Naylor be chosen as president of the Board of Education? Has the groundwork been laid for a minority group to take over the majority of the board? Or are we truly asleep at the switch because the voter majority really doesn't care?



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