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February 17, 2004

Beware of the "Primary" of March

Alan Imhoff

Unless there is a ground swell of political party commitment, the presidential primary will come and go here in Frederick County without much fanfare.

However, on a more local level, it would appear that the Republican faithful have some serious voting to do in the congressional race and for judge.

Not much seems to be hitting the airways as yet, the political signs for the front yards just won't work in frozen ground and most voters probably are unaware there any races worth coming out on March 2nd.

What has seemed to garner most of the attention so far is the coverage on the new voting machines.

They are actually quite easy to use. I have had the opportunity to try them out recently during election judge training. Speaking of which, the Board of Elections does need about 200 more judges than they needed just two years ago, so if your so inclined give them a call.

So, Frederick County will have all these brand spankin' new touch screen voting machines, but many may not even be used. Why?

Four years ago was our last presidential primary, while I do not recall the countywide turnout, the three precincts I keep records on averaged about 550 voters each out of a total of almost 5,700 eligible or around a 30% turnout, which seems to be about an average turnout for primaries. For comparison, those same three precincts turned out a 57.2% in the November General Election.

Unfortunately, in this partisan election for the Republican and Democratic nominees, almost 18,000 county voters will be disenfranchised from the opportunity to participate in the "non-partisan" part of the primary. Why? It seems as though our wonderful state laws, which always favor the two ruling parties, do not allow for "non-partisan" races to be voted on in primaries unless one of the two ruling parties agrees to allow it.

For the record, the Republican Party allowed it one time for the race for the Board of Education and has since decided not to.

What this means is that roughly 16% of our registered voters in this county cannot vote for either the three candidates for the Board of Education, or the two for judge. Granted because there is such apathy for the Board of Education that only three people filed for the three open seats, but voting for the judge's position does carry some potential problems.

If the two who are running for judge split, one wins the Democratic primary and the other the Republican it is not a problem, as they both will go forward to the General Election and everyone can then vote. However, if either wins both party primaries the winner then moves unchallenged to the November General Election.

If the margin is close, the unanswered question is will either be willing to challenge the vote because over 18,000 voters were not given the opportunity to cast a ballot?

Granted turnout is not usually high among the other parties and the "unaffiliated" voters. (For those wondering, "unaffiliated" is a designation used by the State Board of Elections to identify individuals who chose not to affiliate with any recognized party.)

But to not have the opportunity seems to some to be almost "un-American." Just because an individual chooses not to be known by a party label should not preclude them from voting in "non-partisan" primary races for the Board of Education or any judgeships.

The "system" ASSUMED that the process would always work. But that was before Frederick County had a challenger to a sitting judge. The challenger was totally within his rights to do what he did. What failed was a "system” (remember these are lawyers and judges we are talking about folks) that did not consider a challenger to the system to be a highly likely event.

There was an attempt in the last session of the General Assembly to rectify the process to allow for these non-partisan voters to vote in non-partisan primaries. But, like a lot of well-intentioned legislation, someone somewhere got their nose bent out of shape or one of the two ruling parties felt threatened. Whatever happened, the legislation didn't.

So here we are in Frederick County with a challenger in a race for judge, who did what he was allowed to do and a "system" that is now trying to play catch up.

I just hope that no matter what happens on March 2nd with the race for judge, that the "system" will take the legislation to the General Assembly once again next year and get this thing fixed, otherwise the 18,000 disenfranchised may decide to come out in two years and really shake some things up.

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