“Maryland Votes 2022: None of This Is Okay.”
By Len N. Foxwell
Principal, Tred Avon Strategies
None of this is okay.
THAT is the primary takeaway from July’s primary elections. None of us should feel good about how all of this came about.
Not the state legislators who pass the laws that determine how, when, and where we cast ballots for the candidates of our choice.
Not the party leaders that have the power to decide who can and can’t vote in the primaries.
Not the scores of election judges, poll watchers, and volunteers who take upon themselves the responsibility of protecting the integrity of our system in elementary schools, firehouses, armories, and community centers across our state.
a badly broken machine that has inspired little more than apathy, distrust, confusion, and political extremism.
And certainly not us, the voters of Maryland, who ultimately bear the long-term consequences of a badly broken machine that has inspired little more than apathy, distrust, confusion, and political extremism.
Let us review, shall we?
This slow-motion shipwreck began last year when the legislature initiated the decennial process of redrawing the election lines to account for population changes captured in the 2020 census. As usual, the process was smooth and uneventful.
Except for the fact that we were soon treated to not one but TWO redistricting commissions – one convened by Democratic legislative leaders and the other by Republican Governor Larry Hogan. From the outset, the “Hogan Commission” was little more than a political stage prop. Any Marylanders paying close attention to these machinations – all nine of them – understood that the lines drawn and approved by Hogan’s allies and appointees stood as much chance of being adopted by the legislature as Rick Fritz has of being nominated by President Biden for a seat on the federal bench.
The political equivalent of a Little League home run ensued from these auspicious beginnings.
The political equivalent of a Little League home run ensued from these auspicious beginnings. To make a very, very long story short, suffice to say that plenty of litigation ensured, thus throwing voters, elections officials, and candidates alike into a state of extended limbo while the courts were left to sort all of this out.
Those who were surprised to see Maryland’s new district maps end up as exhibits in a court of law were either unaware or forgetful of recent history. Indeed, this is the third consecutive redistricting process that has ended up in litigation at a considerable practical and reputational cost to the State of Maryland.
The result of all this turmoil, and the lateness of the hour in which the final maps were approved by the courts, was that Election Day was pushed back from June 28 to July 19, with early voting taking place from July 7 – 14. Thereby ensuring that the citizenry of the Old Line State was tasked with electing all their state and county officials at the exact, precise moment that people care about politics the least.
“But,” you say, “we can mail our ballots in this year!” Yes. And because of Governor Hogan’s inexplicable decision to prohibit county elections boards from counting mailed ballots until after the July 19 election, there are still poor souls – as of the July 26 composition of this piece – performing this most tedious and laborious of public functions. This, while a handful of highly significant races – from the race for Montgomery County Executive to the one for Baltimore County State’s Attorney – remain unresolved.
Furthermore, it must be said that even with the introduction of the appealing vote-by-mail option and the collection boxes located across the state, voter participation in the State of Maryland continues to be far behind our aspirations and, for that matter, our state’s own history.
In 1994, a year in which both parties held highly contested primaries, 39.6 percent of the eligible voter pool cast ballots. Since then, that number has steadily declined, reaching a nadir of 22 percent in 2014, before rebounding to a slightly less anemic 24 percent in 2018.
This year, in the wake of an election that featured all the aforementioned amenities plus the chance to register to vote ON ELECTION DAY. Political observers and election officials are reduced to turning figurative cartwheels because turnout will remain like or even – dare we dream!? – improve slightly over 2018.
…over 836,000 unaffiliated voters remain disenfranchised from the primary voting process
While hundreds of thousands of registered Democrats and Republicans are responding with a collective snore to the approach and passage of their respective gubernatorial primaries, over 836,000 unaffiliated voters remain disenfranchised from the primary voting process. This, even though many of the most engaged citizens in our society – from journalists and judges to the federal employees who call Maryland home – decline to affiliate with a party as a matter of professional ethics and not political disaffection.
Here is what we have been able to ascertain from the 2022 elections:
- The redistricting process we now have in place does not work. It leads to litigation, costly delays, confusion, and distrust between the politicians and the governed. Indeed, it is obvious that the only winners are the politicians who remain in control of the process and get to choose their own voters rather than the other way around;
- Despite well-intentioned efforts to inspire voter engagement, the public remains as disengaged from statewide elections as ever – suggesting that the problem will not be solved simply by making the act of voting more logistically convenient;
- This voting apathy, coupled with the disenfranchisement of unaffiliated voters who bring considerations besides partisan and philosophical purity to the polls, has incentivized politicians to compete for their party’s nomination by tailoring their platforms; to that party’s most philosophically extreme “base voters.” One can find no more evident example than a Maryland Republican Party, which has jettisoned the pragmatic roadmap to victory crafted by Larry Hogan and has, instead, nominated a January 6 insurrectionist and a litigious sociopath to carry its banner into the general election.
So, this is where we are as we slog through the sweltering and desultory summer of 2022. However, it would be pointless for this writer to simply unpack the shortcomings of our political system without offering a menu of solutions. In a series of columns that will extend through the month of August, I will offer a four-step plan that I believe would lead to better campaigns, the nomination of better candidates, and a renewed sense of public engagement in our political process.
I look forward to the conversation that lies ahead.