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Want to make a change in Washington? Vote | COMMENTARY

From left, Del. Talmadge Branch, Leslie Grant, state Sen. Jill Carter and Maya Rockeymoore Cummings at the 7th Congressional District candidate forum at Linden Hall on Feb. 1. The special primary election for the seat of the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings is on Tuesday, Feb. 4.
From left, Del. Talmadge Branch, Leslie Grant, state Sen. Jill Carter and Maya Rockeymoore Cummings at the 7th Congressional District candidate forum at Linden Hall on Feb. 1. The special primary election for the seat of the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings is on Tuesday, Feb. 4.(Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

In Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, voters go to the polls Tuesday in a special primary to choose Democratic and Republican nominees to fill out the remainder of the term of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings. Judging from special elections past, the turnout will be abysmal. In Maryland, the most recent example was in 2008 in the 4th District when Donna Edwards received just 16,481 votes with 80.5% of ballots cast in that D.C. suburban district (and that was a general election; there was no primary that time). More than one political wag has speculated that the number of candidates, 24 Democrats and eight Republicans, might end up representing a significant percentage of those who show up at the polls.

We would urge 7th District residents to prove such speculation wrong. Not just because the American system of governance depends upon voter participation — it always has — but because we live in times when casual apathy is no longer tolerable. When a president can be impeached with overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing and then have the other chamber abstain from even bothering to hear eyewitness testimony or subpoena relevant records on their way to a predetermined exoneration, you know these are not average times. When did the nation face such a constitutional test? Watergate? Segregation? The Red Scare? Whether you support or oppose President Donald Trump, you should want the person who best reflects your views seated in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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And on the subject of President Trump, are 7th District voters really content to leave his attack last summer on Mr. Cummings and the district unanswered? The president’s sneering tweets, describing a majority-minority district where average incomes are actually above the national average as languishing in trash and rats was racist and insulting, have never been retracted (unlike his thoughts on what state the Super Bowl-winning Kansas City Chiefs are located). More important, he continues to show no interest whatsoever in addressing West Baltimore’s longstanding problems with gun violence, drug abuse, poverty, discrimination, lack of housing, and on and on. Do district residents really want to read the post-election Trump tweet mocking the 7th for its low turnout? That’s if he bothers to notice the district at all for something other than to use it as a punching bag.

The turnout need not be paltry. As it happens, the special election is noteworthy in one more respect: For the first time, Marylanders have the option of same-day voter registration which means eligible voters who failed to register in advance can do so at their local polling places. A driver’s license or state-sanctioned voter ID is the easiest option. The district’s 315 polling sites will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Not sure where to go or what to do? Just check online at elections.maryland.gov. Oh, and the weather forecast is actually pretty good, so what’s your excuse now?

We’ve endorsed state Sen. Jill P. Carter in the Democratic primary and Reba A. Hawkins among the Republicans. Senator Carter is a lawyer and daughter of civil rights leader Walter P. Carter, who has been a tireless advocate for the disadvantaged. Ms. Hawkins, a community activist, has won over voters for her willingness to confront issues like income inequality that many in her party ignore. But we also recommend checking out The Sun’s voter guide to read the candidate’s own words. It can be an invaluable insight for the undecided.

It’s probably not realistic to expect a record high turnout Tuesday, or even a moderate one. But how glorious it would be for voters to show they are not content with the status quo, that they are engaged, that they are paying attention and that are interested in sending a message to those who would willfully ignore or condemn them: We care, we notice, we vote. That’s how democracy is supposed to work, that’s how the public interest is served.

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