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February 8, 2005

Why Not Other Alternatives?

Alan Imhoff

What a way to start off a new year in the City of Frederick, a polarizing show of political posturing over what in essence is a minor matter - the residency requirements to be allowed to run for office.

Since we became an officially recognized republic through the Treaty of Paris in September 1783, all across the land local cities, towns, and counties - as well as the states and federal governments - have had a variety of requirements to be able to run for office and to vote.

Over the past 222 years - how's that for coincidence - each level of government and every jurisdiction has gone through some changes in those qualifications; some have remained steadfast, like the minimum age for president of the United States at 35 years.

Political parties have come and gone, when was the last time you heard any mention the Whig Party or the Know-Nothings?

We pride ourselves on being "informed" voters capable of making the right choices and this is at the center of the controversy. Is it three-years, one-year or six-months that make an individual more qualified?

At the public hearing at City Hall, I mentioned that from an elections standpoint perhaps the city should consider allowing more of those "informed" to be involved in the process.

The city could open up the primary to all voters, not just the two political parties. I mentioned that in the Frederick City's 2001 General Election only 33% of the 29,550 registered voters chose our current mayor and board. If we truly want more "informed" voters, by opening the primary another 13%, or the 5,813 "unaffiliated" voters might spark an interest in the candidates of the two major parties to get out the vote.

Just as a little aside, approximately 20% of city residents 18 and older have chosen not to register at all, or an estimated 8,700, and another 12% of registered voters have chosen not to vote for some time - or 5,250 of us.

That leaves just about 25,000 voters to show up this coming September, roughly 13,000 Democrats and 12,000 Republicans. Four years ago just 20% of those Democrats came out, the Republicans had about a 13% turnout, a total of 4,047 voters making the final party choices for 29,950 people.

In the presidential election just past, over 70% of the city's registered voters came to the polls. If the city "fathers," or whatever they want to be called, truly want the "informed" voter to have a say, why not get away from the off-year election and hold the city elections in concert with the presidential cycle?

Since that meeting, I have had time to reflect on other agenda items, among them are limits on campaign contributions and salaries for those offices being elected. Much is being made about both, but I only ask that we apply the same logic to them as we did to residency requirements.

If we are truly "informed" voters, then those receiving substantial financial backing may be worth intense questioning by us on those contributions. Placing arbitrary limits on them is no different than qualifying individuals by residency requirements. There are other ways to get elected besides running up large campaign coffers.

Finally, the positions of alder"person" in the City, as are the commissioners at county level and the delegation to the General Assembly, are only part-time positions - have been, are and likely to remain so. If any of these positions absolutely require a full-time commitment, then the forms of government need to be altered to accommodate those needs.

Otherwise accept the fact that they are not meant to be the "living wage" for the person holding the position. Like many others in management jobs, the people in these positions need to put in as many hours as is required to get the job done. Prioritization and time-management are integral parts of being a manager/politician. Some can get it done in less than 20 hours a week; some take 30, others, well...

As has been often said during the 20-plus years I have lived in this city, party labels do not mean that much when dealing at the local level. If that is indeed true, then maybe we as voters can stand up and ask for the best possible system of electing our officials, rather than what we have recently seen and heard.

Perhaps we should require all candidates for office to get signatures on petitions to qualify for the primary. The top two winners for each office would then square off for the general election during the presidential election cycle.

Wouldn't that be fun?

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