What if nobody voted?
Gene M. Raynor, administrator of the State Administrative Board of Election Laws, thought about this for a moment.
"Well, that wouldn't happen, would it?" he said. "Somebody will always vote."
But what if they didn't?
"I suppose if there were a catastrophic event, like an earthquake or something, the survivors would get together and set a new date."
But what if there weren't a catastrophic event? What if the voters just got so mad or so bored that they all stayed home to teach the candidates a lesson?
Raynor chuckled. "We're getting into the area of whimsy here, aren't we?"
But would it work?
"Do you mean, would it teach the candidates a lesson?"
"Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't," answered Raynor.
"The election law is very, very clear," he continued. "Nothing stands in the way of an election, and I mean nothing. My first thought is, the candidates would probably vote for themselves. That's what I would do. And if you've got just one vote, the election is considered valid.
"And even if you did get a total boycott," said Raynor, "we'd probably just hold the incumbents over until the next election. It wouldn't necessarily teach them a lesson."
Well, so much for that idea.
I had hoped to learn that a mass boycott of today's city elections would wreak havoc on the body politic, force us to dump every candidate and start over, for instance. Anything to make the politicians sit up and take notice.
But, alas, a voter boycott only maintains the status quo, just as voter apathy, or voter ignorance, or stupidity, or outrage or darn near anything you can think of, tends to favor the status quo.
We've got to do something to shake things up.
Raynor predicts that today we could have the lowest voter turnout in a mayoral race in more than two decades. The turnout, he said, might reach 32 percent of the city's 325,044 registered ++ voters if the sun shines.
I blame the candidates for this.
I know, I know. The fashionable thing these days is to blame the voters for failing to do their civic duty. But you and I have got to scurry about like rats just to put bread on the table.
We have to splash and flounder about just to keep our heads above water.
We've got to scratch and kick just to keep the bill collectors from pounding on the door. (Choose your cliche.)
I'm sorry if you haven't figured it out yet, and I really hate to be the one to tell you this, but times are hard. Life is a struggle.
But the men and women who run for, or hold, elected office presumably do so because they believe they can make a difference in our lives. They presumably believe voting is important. The burden of proof is on them.
But that's not the way the game is played these days.
These days the trick is to keep the debate shallow, either lull us to sleep or get us so emotionally fired up that we can't think clearly.
Look at the trouble the poor women and men of the Baltimore League of Women Voters have had just getting the candidates to debate each other.
A debate, for all of its potential flaws, is an intrinsically democratic idea. And television, for all its flaws, is the best of all possible media because it can reach the most voters. Armed with nothing flashier than the spoken word, and with thousands looking on, candidates attempt to demonstrate in a debate that they are best equipped to handle the job. Nothing else compares.
This year, the league got organized too late to get a televised debate scheduled so we can't really blame the candidates. But candidates, particularly guardians of the status quo, have been increasingly reluctant to meet their opponents in such a forum, anyway.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, for instance, couldn't even be bothered with a non-televised debate this year.
So here we are faced today with potentially the lowest voter turnout in memory.
Each year, it seems, we get closer and closer to that mass boycott, with only the candidates and a few of their closest friends casting votes. Great news for guardians of the status quo, I suppose, but a really lousy way to run a democracy.