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A Modest Proposal

Let’s raise the stakes on voting

Annapolis voters — all 4,277 of them — have decided who gets to run for mayor of our capital city.
    Democrat Josh Cohen, the current mayor, will run against Republican Mike Pantelides in November.
    Cohen won the right to run again by beating Democratic challenger Bevin Buchheister 1,774 to 1,332.
    Pantelides won the right to move on to November by beating two competitors. Republican voters gave him 765 votes to Bob O’Shea’s 365 and Frank Bradley’s 41.
    Only a Democrat and a Republican get nominated because only Democrats and Republicans get to vote in Maryland primary elections.
    That’s one good way to keep the vote down. Party rules closed the Annapolis primary polls to the 4,836 citizens otherwise registered as independents or Green or other.
    But Citizens know the best way to keep the vote down: Don’t vote.
    Of 23,675 voters registered in Annapolis, fewer than 20 percent bothered to vote.
    True, contests were few.
    In addition to the mayoral competition, in only two of eight wards did one candidate challenge another. Both were races between Democrats.
    In Ward 1, serving alderman Joe Budge won the right to keep the job, beating Tom McCarthy 374 to 171.
    In Ward 2, Kurt Riegel won the right to run against serving Republican alderman Fred Paone in November. Riegel won 355 votes to opponent Tim Manutti’s 180.
    Each of the nine competitors ran for reasons that gave voters choices. You could find out what choices they offered pretty easily. They came knocking on your door and gathered in forums to talk to you.
    September 17’s vote was a referendum on the candidates. In the Democratic competition for mayor, where choices were clearest, Buchheister was opposing the direction of development — especially at City Dock and Crystal Spring on Forest Drive.
    What happens now will, as I wrote last week, affect the lives not only of Annapolitans but also of all of us tied to Annapolis by its role as our capital city and perhaps our place of employment.
    We’ve got it all wrong about how to get more people to vote.
    Accessible registration, early voting, cheerleading and admonitions: none of the bright ideas we implement to get out the vote is working.
    Maybe we should try reverse psychology, the tactic at work in states where voting isn’t your right for the asking.
    In Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee, you’ve got to prove you’re a citizen before you can vote. Making you hunt for your birth certificate or excavate your passport might put a higher premium on voting.
    Maybe we could even revive poll taxes, under the theory that you don’t value anything you get for free.
    Absentee voting offers lots of ways to make us reach a little higher for the right we take for granted. We could require students away from home at college to get a note from their dean and their mother to apply for absentee ballots. We could carpenter a nice narrow window — say in January, when all snowbirds are flown — for applications for absentee ballots, which could, of course, only be requested in person.
    We could decide that people in the military, in the Peace Corps or diplomatic corps live in the country where they’re serving.
    The Anne Arundel County Council used a parallel strategy to turn Daryl Jones out of office because he was serving five months in prison out of state for tax evasion. True, Maryland courts overturned that decision, and Jones got his seat back this week. But it worked for a while.
    Anyway, we’re not talking about taking people’s votes away, only making voting more precious because, like gold, it’s scarce.
    If you don’t like reverse psychology, we could revive patronage. Under that time-honored system, your political party buttered your bread. Voting for its candidates was part of the way you showed party loyalty. Sit on your vote, and you’d find yourself without not only butter but also bread.
    Makes sense, doesn’t it? We’re more likely to vote if there’s something in it for us. Something immediate, like a paycheck. Or something rare that you’ve got to work for.
    Of the two approaches, I prefer patronage. I’m open to queries about just how much my vote is worth.
    What about you? Send your bright ideas for getting out the vote to [email protected].

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; [email protected]