Hard look needed at election problems in Maryland [Editorial]

Voters cast their ballots at Fallston Middle School on Primary Election Day, June 26.
Voters cast their ballots at Fallston Middle School on Primary Election Day, June 26. (MATT BUTTON/THE AEGIS/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

BALTIMORE — Maryland’s primary election process is so flawed that it nearly turns the political views of its electorate, even the pitiful few who do bother to turn out, into worthless votes.

There’s a myriad of flaws in the process. Those flaws may exacerbate the decades-long concern of less than acceptable voter participation. In too many recent elections, particularly primaries, that less than acceptable characterization is more accurately labeled pathetic.


Maryland’s Primary Election 2018 was no better.

In Harford, the Board of Elections Supervisors report that less than 25 percent of the county’s registered Democrat and Republican voters who were eligible exercised that right, despite having more opportunities to cast their ballots than past generations.


In addition to traditional absentee ballots for those who would either be out of the area or otherwise physically unable to go to the polls, there also was a week of crowd-free, hassle-free early voting for those seeking to avoid some type of Election Day rush, which never materialized.

The county elections board reported that 34,317 out of the 140,935 eligible to vote – a pathetic 24.35 percent - did so. Fewer than one out of four – one out of four - who could vote actually did.

One result is in many local races, such as Harford County Council or state legislative seats, where voting is by only those living a particular geographic district, party nominees are determined by a few hundred or many just tens of votes, as happened this year in more than one council and legislative race locally.

The final results are in, with winners set in tight primary races for state delegate and Harford County Council, after the third and final ballot canvass Friday.

Fortunately in Harford, none of the losers has demanded a recount, but that’s going to happen in some other counties, such as in neighboring Baltimore County where just nine votes separated the top two finishers in the Democratic primary for county executive. Recounts are time consuming, expensive but fully permissible. They also tend to be avoidable when there is a larger percentage of the electorate participating in the first place.


For whatever reason(s), from among a broad list of possibilities, people didn’t vote, it’s painfully obvious the state’s primary election process is in need of serious changes.

Whether it’s a fear of fraud against those who honestly cast their ballots, or a fear of fraud by those who might not vote honestly, or other matters that don’t directly impact voting outcomes, but do impact voters psyches, there’s plenty of concerns to go around.

Is the third Tuesday in June the right date for Primary Election Day? Probably not, based on the turnout. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt for primary election voting to be held earlier, or later after summer is over.

Is it right that as many as 80,000 voters statewide should have been registered to vote via the Motor Vehicle Administration, but weren’t because of a computer glitch, forcing them to fill out provisional ballots? It’s obviously not.

Computer glitches happen, as we all know, but in this instance it not only adds fuel to conspiracy theories, but also reinforces doubts others have about authenticity of elections.

Is it right that when a leading candidate dies tragically during the campaign, as Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz did May 10 of cardiac arrest in the middle of the race for the Democratic nomination for governor, that his name can’t be replaced on the ballot with the name of the candidate replacing him? It’s obviously not.

Jason Gallion, selected by the Maryland Republican Party to run for the District 35 Senate seat after Sen. Wayne Norman died in March, says he will remain a candidate after the primary, despite reports of a "switch" that involves him running for delegate and Del. Teresa Reilly for Senate.

Closer to home, the sudden death of Harford State Sen. Wayne Norman on March 3 left the local Republican parties in Harford and Cecil County, which Norman also representative, with two days to find a replacement for him on the ballot – according to state elections officials – or the party faced the prospect of having no candidate for a seat they were going to win, as the Democrats didn’t even have a candidate. Two days to find a replacement following an unforeseen death simply makes no sense. Clearly the state election laws need much fine tuning.

William Shakespeare is well known for many things, including his comedy “Much Ado About Nothing,” that is believed to have been written in 1598 or 1599.

There isn’t much that’s similar between Shakespeare’s play and the Maryland Primary Election other than those four words – Much Ado About Nothing - are apt descriptions of each.

A hard look is needed at ways to improve voter turnout and alleviate fears about election rigging, no matter how slim the possibilities that a single invalid vote can be cast.

It may be near impossible to convince more people that they need to be voting, but changes can be made to at least motivate more people to vote and to eliminate some of the goofiness in the election system.

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