Continuing a disturbing, decade-long trend, the number of registered voters in Baltimore city plummets. Election officials report that only about 320,000 people were registered for September's city primary elections, down 18 percent from the 392,000 four years ago and nearly 100,000 fewer than registered in 1983.
The decline in registered voters has been steeper than the drop in the general population during the last decade. Some observers attribute this year's falloff to the absence of aggressive voter registration drives among the major citywide candidates. It's true that candidates this year seem to be concentrating more on getting out voters who are already registered than signing up previously unregistered residents. But both the 1987 and 1983 elections were preceded by relatively strong voter registration drives -- and the fall-off still occurred.
Nationally, the decline in voter registration and in voter turnout on election day has been variously attributed to voter apathy, anger at politicians or to a feeling that government simply is incapable of doing much about about the problems that most worry citizens. And locally people give all sorts of reasons for not registering to vote, from frequent changes of address to an unwillingness to be called up for jury duty. None of these excuses stand scrutiny. Yet the net effect of the decline in voter participation is comparable to that of the Census undercount of people in cities, which disenfranchises entire regions economically.