With Election Day fast approaching on Tuesday, Nov. 8, there are all kinds of predictions in the air, from a Republican “red wave”in response to the opposing party holding the White House, to an anticipated backlash against the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade that may boost Democrats in tight contests. But here’s one forecast that all Marylanders should be worried about no matter their political leanings: low voter turnout.
We don’t know what the tally will be, of course. But modest turnout during the state’s weeklong early voting is concerning, particularly after such a lightly attended primary election in July. And we fear that concerns about voter intimidation or gamesmanship (more about that later) could dampen election participation in Maryland. And that’s not good — not for democracy, not for governance and not for the future.
And so we would offer this simple counsel to all those eligible to cast a ballot in the Free State: Get off your backsides and vote if you haven’t already. Take your mailed ballot to the drop box, or go to the polls on Tuesday.
We have heard all the excuses that can be made by people who fail to vote. They were too busy. They forgot. They didn’t believe themselves well informed on the candidates and issues. They thought staying home sent a message of disapproval to politicians (although it might just as easily be perceived as exactly the opposite). These are the reasons why fewer than half of Maryland’s registered voters usually participate in midterms. None of them stand up to scrutiny. What it really boils down to is a profound lack of respect for the democratic process, a right for which our forebears fought and died. In short, there are few actions more unpatriotic than failing to exercise one’s voting franchise. As the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis observed, “It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society, and we must use it.”
The most obvious reason is that close elections can come down to a relative handful of votes. In 1904, for example, Republican presidential nominee Theodore Roosevelt bested his Democratic rival in Maryland by a mere 51 votes. And that wasn’t even the closest presidential contest in Maryland history. That honor belongs to the 1832 Henry Clay-Andrew Jackson faceoff which the former won by 4 votes. And more recently, there was the 1994 gubernatorial race between Parris Glendening and Ellen Sauerbrey, which was decided by fewer than 6,000 votes. In a state where 2 million or more votes can be cast, that’s a squeaker.
But there are other reasons as well, including that the size of victories matter. Politicians who win by landslides are emboldened, their level of support a warning to opponents that the public has strongly sided with that individual’s agenda. In the case of Wes Moore, for example, a predicted 32-point margin victory, if fulfilled, would certainly send a message that Maryland was more than ready for its first Black governor. Conversely, narrow decisions recommend prudence. If this year’s proposed constitutional amendment (Question 4) legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use passes narrowly, it sends a message to the Maryland General Assembly to move extra cautiously on implementation.
Finally, it should be noted that there are some among us who might take advantage of voter anxieties to further foment distrust and discord in our democratic systems. A top aide to Michael Peroutka, the controversial Republican nominee for Maryland attorney general, has called upon his supporters to show up on Election Day just two hours before the polls close. Why? It’s not clear, but the assumption is that long lines and a chaotic environment might provide fodder for a legal (or perhaps non-legal) challenge to the results, particularly if the numbers are slow to be tabulated. That sort of behavior ought not be enabled — which is something that low turnout might do. In the Donald Trump era, subverting the election process is somehow seen as a sound strategy and not anti-democratic, anti-social, perfidious act that it actually is.
Take responsibility. Accept the challenge of self-governance. Vote.
Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.