Apathy was the big winner

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

November 08, 1990|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

This was the year Maryland voters lusted for change.

Abortion. Taxes. Recession and war. This was the season of discontent, when the electorate rallied to the cry: "Throw the rascals out."

And for all intents and purposes they did. At least, Maryland voters threw out more rascals this year than usual. They rejected one incumbent congressman, 10 state legislators, and one, maybe two, county executives.

Seven sitting council members in the metropolitan area lost their jobs, and a whole bunch of rascals had to sweat through election night after their opponents mounted stiffer challenges than expected.

Our imperial governor captured just 59.7 percent of the vote, even though he supposedly was the most popular guy in the state and even though he ran against a relative newcomer and his wife. Maybe our imperial governor is feeling a tad less imperial today.

"There's no question that there was a strong, anti-incumbent mood out there," said Tom Cowley, head of the state Democratic Central Committee. Because Democratic rascals hold most of the offices in Maryland, they took a beating Tuesday. Next time, perhaps, it'll be the Republican rascals who will do the sweating.

"People were feeling frustrated, angry," said Cowley. "There was a sense that they don't like the way things are going -- not necessarily here, but things in general -- and they wanted to send a message.

"At some of the polling places, people would approach the workers and demand to know who the incumbents were so that they could vote against them," Cowley continued. "And they weren't just asking, either. Many of them were downright rude about it."

But, for all of the anger, discontent, and unhappiness; despite the burning issues of the day -- the threat of war and the impending recession -- the fact remains that only a little over 1 million people voted Tuesday in Maryland. That's less than one-third of the state's voting-age population and only about half of those who bothered to register.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, for instance, begins his second term in office with a ringing endorsement from 59.7 percent of the votes cast and -- even though Schaefer wanted more -- 59.7 percent isn't all that bad.

But the 644,528 people who voted for Schaefer represent just 18 percent of the state's adult population and that's downright pathetic. If I were the governor, I'd be too embarrassed to show my face today.

Candidates rarely blame themselves when people don't vote. They attribute low turnouts to apathy and indifference, to the bovine stupidity of the masses who tend to follow their leaders anywhere, chewing their cuds, mooing happily and never looking to tomorrow.

But I, for one, am not entirely sure the non-voting masses are asses -- or cattle, to extend the analogy. In fact, some of the most idiotic people I know vote religiously.

No. I suspect most adults have gone beyond frustration and anger and have entered the twilight, non-voting zone of disgust and despair.

People don't vote because they don't believe voting does them any good.

Most teen-agers register for a driver's license the moment they come of age -- nearly 90 percent of the eligible population is licensed to drive here. And registering to drive with Motor Vehicle Administration isn't pleasant, either. But driving makes a difference. Driving changes your life.

Only 60 percent of Maryland's adults are licensed to vote. And it is considered a good year when half of them actually exercise the privilege. If voting makes a difference, a lot of people apparently cannot see it.

Politicians must shoulder a lot of the blame for the consistently poor turnouts.

All candidates, incumbents or challengers, contend that they will make a difference in their constituents' lives, and the bottom line is this: people don't believe them. People put their energies into exercises that matter and the windy blatherings of the political process do not seem to matter.

The people aren't the asses, the candidates are. You say Schaefer was endorsed by only 18 percent of the voting age population? Maybe that's all he's worth.

In the end, the prevailing mood of this election season was pretty much the same as in past election seasons. It wasn't, "Throw the rascals out!", it was "Throw them out or leave them in -- who cares!"

I find that sad. I find that disheartening. I find that downright scary.

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