Off the top of your head, can you guess the median weekly wage for a Baltimore household? According to U.S. Census data, the answer is just over $850. Now consider this: In our last mayoral race, the average contribution to a candidate was $725. We all know that campaign donors can hold significant sway with elected officials, so you do the math. If the people putting our leaders in office are those with money to burn, they do not represent this city’s residents — especially many families who are black, brown and struggling to get by.
Let’s face it: Our democracy works best when everyone has a voice, not when it’s pay-to-play. That’s why it is critical that Baltimore voters weigh in on two key questions on our city and state ballot this fall. First, a yes vote on Question H would amend the Baltimore City Charter and lay the groundwork for a new program to get big money out of Baltimore City elections. Second, a yes vote on Question 2 of our statewide ballot would change the state’s Constitution to allow voter registration on Election Day.
Our democracy works best when everyone has a voice, whether that means casting a ballot or having our state put limits on corporate money in politics. With these two crucial changes, Baltimoreans have the chance to spur change toward government that responds to regular people — not just the privileged few.
If passed, Question H would help establish a Baltimore Fair Elections program to enable candidates to run for office without relying on large or corporate donors. Participating candidates could no longer take giant checks from lobbyists, corporations or PACs, which would expand the opportunities to run for office so people from all backgrounds can rely on the strength of their ideas, not their access to money. A Fair Elections program would also amplify the voices of Baltimore’s working families by encouraging small-dollar donations and providing matching funds for candidates who abide by stricter ethics and transparency rules.
Small donor funds like that proposed with Question H are already the law of the land in neighboring Howard and Montgomery counties, and Prince George’s County is considering one this fall. If a city as large as Baltimore takes this important step, we get that much closer to a statewide small donor program.
Meanwhile, Election Day Registration (EDR) statewide would eliminate arbitrary deadlines that stop citizens from voting and will increase voter participation, especially among communities of color and younger voters. Currently, Marylanders can register to vote or update their voter registration during the early voting period using same-day registration, but they cannot do so on Election Day itself. This inconsistency is unnecessary and leads to thousands of Marylanders' voices going unheard during our elections.
Similar to the voter registration process during the early voting period, EDR would be a one-stop process that allows eligible voters to register to vote or update an existing registration, and then cast a ballot immediately afterward. EDR gains are particularly strong in communities with significant mobility — voters of color, young voters, low income voters and recently enfranchised Marylanders. These voters are more likely to have moved between election cycles, thus necessitating an updated registration.
Our city and state cannot afford for only some voices to be heard and counted during our elections. During the 2016 elections, the first year of implementation for same-day registration during early voting, 20,000 Marylanders availed themselves of the program, meaning that 20,000 more Marylanders were able to make their voices heard during the course of the primary and general elections. Allowing voters the ability to also register on election day would build on those gains. EDR requires eligible voters to produce the same documents to register as during the same-day registration period during early voting. This system has worked well for Maryland, producing zero fraudulent registrations.
With early voting underway through Nov. 1 and the Nov. 6 election less than two weeks away, Baltimore voters have the opportunity to cast a ballot for democracy, to curb the special interests’ influence in our political process and make sure every eligible voter’s voice is heard. We invite you to join us in supporting these two critical changes for our city and state and to vote yes on Question H and Question 2.
Wendy Fields (firstname.lastname@example.org) is executive director of Democracy Initiative, a national coalition of 70 organizations working for a future in which all Americans participate fully and freely in the democratic process. Rev. Kobi Little (naacpmscpac@gmailcom) is chair of the Question H Ballot Committee, president of the Baltimore City Branch of the NAACP, and political action chairman for the NAACP Maryland State Conference.