Baltimore voter apathy 'truly staggering'

After a tempestuous and increasingly acrimonious contest in the Democratic primary, Marilyn Mosby’s election to a second term as Baltimore City state’s attorney wasn’t even close. She has been vindicated by the popular will.

Or has she? When it came right down to it, Ms. Mosby persuaded just one of every eight Baltimore City Democrats to vote for her.

Let’s go to the numbers. According to the results published online by the Baltimore City Board of Elections, there were 302,627 people registered as Democrats for the primary. Of these, 82,721 cast any type of ballot. That’s a whopping 27.33 percent of those eligible. Of this conscientious cohort, 39,766 voted for the incumbent, or 49.39 percent of those who actually voted. That looks impressive, but it’s wildly misleading: Ms. Mosby’s result was 13.1 percent of the total number of persons registered as Democrats.

Compare this to Catherine Pugh’s primary numbers for mayor two years ago. Of 296,256 registered Democrats, she got 48,709 of them to vote for her. That’s just 16.44 percent of those who might have done so. All the more fascinating when you recall that Ms. Pugh beat Sheila Dixon by just 2,408 votes.

This is called democracy. (It is still much to be preferred to the alternatives.) It is fair to say that we are governed by the unplumbed will of the powerful majorities who fail to vote — 55 percent in the 2016 primary, 73 percent in this year’s.

When we take into account the ease of voting, the apathy of the Baltimore City voter is truly staggering. We have eight consecutive days of early voting, then 13 hours to vote on the main primary day itself, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. You have only to show up at the polling place, know where you live and spell your name right. If you are still too inconvenienced to show up in person, you can obtain an absentee ballot and mail it in. The Board of Elections will not question your reasons for voting absentee — in a technical sense you should have a good one — nor should they.

The right to vote for some Americans today is threatened in various ways in certain jurisdictions in this Age of Trump. The right of black Americans to vote was a spectacular struggle during the civil rights movement and one of its crowning achievements. Thousands of African-Americans risked their lives, and some gave them up, daring to ascend the courthouse steps trying to register. Women fought for decades to cast a ballot.

When I consider those who register to vote and then don’t bother, I want to puke.

Those who register and then fail to vote without a certifiable reason should pay a fine, say $50 per missed election. (Nice little windfall for the city.) Let us also observe that the failure to vote does not make a person less likely to whine about the rascals in public office.

This nation has more registered Democrats than any other political party. If they all come out in November, we can put an end to Trump pretty quickly. Impeachment, anyone? The apathy of Democrats in cities like Philadelphia and Milwaukee two years ago helped to sink Hillary Clinton. If Democrats fail to vote in November, they must take a big piece of the blame for the worst president in the history of the United States.

Hal Riedl retired from the Maryland Division of Correction in 2010 and from the office of the state's attorney for Baltimore City in December 2014. His email is haroldriedl@gmail.com.

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