Maryland: Every Vote Counts

September 10, 1990

One more night and the primary election will be here. Months of campaigning will end and voters finally will have their say. Yet tens of thousands of Marylanders are likely to stay away from the 1,550 polling places tomorrow, choosing not to exercise their right to direct governance. Instead of finding common solutions, they will allow themselves to become part of unresolved problems.

Primary elections are an essential part of America's two-party system. Not only do voters designate their respective party's candidates for various offices but they also elect members of the party central committees. Those committees have important duties, including filling vacancies that may occur between the elections.

Is there a better way than a popular vote?

Few alternatives exist in a democracy. One suggestion has surfaced -- electing officials by means of detailed polling. That proposal fails on several counts. Public opinion polling -- with its scientific-sounding "three or four percent margin of error" -- does not carry with it the kind of a mandate associated with an actual election. Nor is that claim of scientific accuracy guaranteed. Yet it is the increasingly common use (and overuse) of polling that has helped seriously dampened voter participation in recent years. Why bother to vote when the polls indicate the likely outcome in advance?

Hogwash. To begin with, public opinion surveys do not cover most local elections. Second, such polls can be way off the mark. There simply is no substitute for a voter exercising his or her right of direct decision-making and pulling that lever in the ballot booth.

Every vote counts. Just ask Baltimore Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who years ago won his first primary election by only three votes. Will such slim margins be repeated this time?

Exciting races abound in tomorrow's primary elections. Some of them are headline-grabbing nominations. But many others are strictly local races for offices such as sheriff or court clerk. The important thing is for everyone to go to the polls. Four years ago, only 48 percent of the Democrats and 28 percent of the Republicans bothered to vote in their respective primaries. The rest failed to participate -- leaving the decisions to a minority of party voters. Don't let that happen again. Tomorrow, take the time to vote for the incumbents, throw the rascals out, whatever. But exercise your right to vote!

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