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September 7, 2004

Change in Elections Laws in Frederick

Alan Imhoff

As was reported recently, the City of Frederick is taking a look, long overdue in my opinion, at revising its elections laws.

What all the current administration has in mind I can only surmise based on the reports in the news, but at a minimum there should be a process to publish publicly not only where donations come from, but also on what was spent and where.

As a candidate three years ago, I met the required filings and, after losing in the primary, submitted not only my contributions but also made a listing of how my money was spent. So to the mayor and Board of Aldermen let me suggest that in addition to the current requirements, reports on campaign expenditures should be done just after the primary and along with the final report.

What one does in the primary for expenses may not be followed when advanced on to the general election, so the possibility for figuring out an opponent' s strategy from reported expenditures would be made moot.

Besides most all candidates spend a lot of money on campaign signs, mailings and advertisements. I guess the question is: "Who is supplying what at what prices." So what is the big bru-ha-ha all about in reporting campaign expenses?

For me, one of the most glaring omissions is the fact that one could collect tens of thousands of dollars, not have to send a nickel and then pocket the money at the end of the campaign.

Who knows where all the excess funds have gone from prior elections?

Here's where the City of Frederick should follow state and other municipality laws to insure that funds are collected properly, expended on the campaign and have a reasonable method of disbursing excess funds at the end.

Finally, while we are on this topic, what about the possibility of passing an ordinance to change the timing of the city election to say the presidential cycle?

While the historian in me says we ought to keep the off-year cycle going, as a practical elections judge I have watched the number of city voters decrease over the past several cycles, and this is before the recently adopted changes in the number and locations of polling locations.

It will become more difficult to justify holding city elections using public schools as polling places because no other election is going on and schools are in session. With presidential and gubernatorial cycles the school system is closed on Election Day.

Not to mention the expense of paying more and more judges at these additional polling places, for what appears to be fewer and fewer voters. By tying the city election into the presidential cycle, the city could save on some of the expense now borne totally by city taxpayers alone.

Well, you may say how can we shift to another cycle?

Let's go out on a limb here; let's say the current administration sees the wisdom in reducing expenses and possibly taking advantage of a larger turnout during a presidential election.

Let's say, the current administration in its rewrite of the election law allows for a one-time only short term of office. Therefore those elected in November 2005 would serve only to January 2009. That means only three years instead of four, but in the presidential cycle four years from now, the future candidates would run in 2008 instead of 2009, but would resume the four-year cycle in office.

This would achieve several goals, not the least of which is a better potential for more city residents voting in a city election. While not a citywide statistic, the three precincts that were located where I am one of the chief judges had a combined total on November 6, 2001, of 2,137 voters cast ballots of the 5,737 eligible, or 37.2% turnout.

The previous year on November 7, 2000, those same three precincts had a 57.2% turnout of 3,373 voting from 5,893 eligible.

Granted the total eligible for the presidential election may have included a few county residents due to the make-up of the precinct lines, but what is interesting is that 1,236 more people turned out, or approximately a 20% increase.

We say we want better representation in government, we say we want more participation in the voting process; we say we want to be involved.

If you live in the City of Frederick and are intrigued by this idea to shift the city elections to the presidential cycle, then let your representatives know about it.

One more thing while I am on this topic. I have often read - and frequently have heard - that local elections are not so much about party, but more about people. If that is true, while the city is at changing the elections laws, why not add an open primary into the mix.

With almost 18% of the registered voters neither Democrat nor Republican, just think how exciting it would be if non-Democrats or non-Republican registered voters could vote in the primary? All they would have to do is declare when they go to a precinct to vote in which primary they wanted to vote.

Remember in the General Election everyone gets to vote for whomever they want. It would take a gigantic leap of faith by the entrenched parties to allow this to happen, but, oh, what fun it would be if another 10% of the voters decided to come out and express their feelings with the ballot.

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