This is a message to all the wishy-washy, inconsistent voters who sit out elections for the slightest of reasons and figure their one vote won’t make much of a difference anyway.
This is not the election to take your vote and civic duty for granted.
If you haven’t heard, there is a virtual three-way tie among mayoral candidates in Baltimore’s Democratic primary, according to a new poll by The Baltimore Sun, the University of Baltimore and WYPR-FM.
The race for City Council president is pretty close too, though not as heated as Baltimore’s top job.
Throwing further uncertainty into the whole caboodle are a fairly significant number of undecided voters and some vacillating voters who say they could change their minds. Enough to sway the results.
Then there’s the anxiety raised by the mail-in ballots, the first time the method has been deployed in a Maryland general election. The delay of ballots getting to some Baltimore City residents has already raised some doubts about the fairness of the process and worries about disenfranchisement.
Last month’s special election for the 7th Congressional District, also mail-in, didn’t bode well for total confidence in the process either. Let’s not forget that more than 20,000 ballots in the city were returned as undeliverable. That’s nearly 10% of the eligible voters registered in Baltimore. Plenty of others were thrown out for technical reasons.
In essence, the results of this election are wide open and unpredictable. Anybody could win, and it could very well come down to a small number of votes. As a recent flyer attached to a Mary Miller campaign sign noted: It only takes @30,000 voters to elect a Baltimore mayor.
There is already talk about court challenges if the race is too close and problems with voting are detected.
Coming out ahead will be about firing up the base as much as it is about issues like crime, education and taxes. Issues which the candidates don’t differ all that much anyway. The smart campaigns will transition to a get out the vote mode, rather than relying on the same old TV ads we’ve been watching for weeks. Maybe a “vote day” where neighborhoods agree to mail their ballots on the same day.
The pandemic makes this more challenging, but there are ways. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon’s dump truck brigades have sparked conversation among supporters and opponents alike. She is tied with former T. Rowe Price executive Mary Miller in their bid for mayor with 18% support among likely voters surveyed, according to the poll. City Council President Brandon Scott is on their heels with 15% support. More than one in five voters were undecided, and 41% of voters are open to changing their minds. (The poll of 400 likely Baltimore Democratic primary voters was conducted May 11-18 and has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points).
There also needs to be an education component. The Maryland State Board of Elections promised outreach, but I haven’t seen anything yet, less than two weeks before the election. I read a social media post recently about an older person who said he filled out his ballot in pencil and now worried it wouldn’t be counted because it wasn’t in ink. How many others will make simple mistakes because they just don’t know?
There is a lot at stake for Baltimore voters this election season. Incessant crime, a steady declining population and an economy being torn apart by the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s just to start. It’s up to voters to choose the candidate that can hit the ground running, move the city forward and galvanize people from different backgrounds.
So many people express a sense of powerlessness, disappointment and disillusionment over the direction of the city. Well, now is the time when people can exert their influence with a vote. Even if no candidate fits your idea of the perfect leader, choose one who comes closest. Some people may be casting their vote for the person they think will hurt the candidate they don’t want to win. Whatever the reason, we just need people to vote.
This is not the election to sit out.
The Board of Elections needs to do its best to make sure every vote is counted. But voters also need to do their part to make sure there is something to count.
Andrea K. McDaniels is The Sun’s deputy editorial page editor. Her column runs every other Friday. Please send her ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.