News and Media
Best Reason Things Will Never Get Better
Low Voter Turnout
Published: September 19, 2012
In Baltimore City’s Democratic primary last fall, 295,260 registered voters—nearly 80 percent of the city’s electorate—either did not or could not vote. That’s the election that, in effect, chose the city’s current crop of elected officials, since Baltimore’s electorate is comprised overwhelmingly of registered Democrats. The outcome gives the mayoral victor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a mandate from about eight percent of the city’s voting-age public. The city’s leaders have proposed a way to boost turnout—holding city elections at the same time as presidential elections—and a charter amendment will be on November’s ballot to do just that. But there’s one simple step that, overnight and without a charter amendment, could significantly boost the size of the city’s electorate in the Democratic primary: opening it up to voters of other persuasions. Doing so last fall would have meant 77,643 registered non-Democrats—more than the 74,460 Democrats who actually voted in the mayoral election—could have participated. Holding open primaries is not a radical proposal. Twenty-one states have open presidential primaries, and in 2000, Maryland Republicans opened up their primary (though they haven’t since). Since political parties are private entities that generally can decide themselves who they want to invite to their primary polling, opening the city’s primaries to all registered voters is simply a matter of Mobtown’s Democrats deciding to do so—thereby proving their dedication to a healthy democracy in a city that desperately needs one.