Disrespecting the voters

April 10, 2003

SO, LET'S see if we've got this right: In 1999, Baltimoreans voted to hold primary and general elections for mayor and city council in 2004, a presidential election year.

But forget that. The voters' wishes have been overturned by the General Assembly, specifically by state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

Instead, the city primary election now will be held this September - 14 months before the general election in November 2004.

This fiasco comes to Baltimore courtesy of various parties, including city officials who didn't realize they weren't authorized to set primary election dates. After the 1999 vote, they scheduled a September 2004 general election but found out that state law would require a 2003 primary.

An effort to straighten this out ended in failure again during the just-completed General Assembly session. The result is anti-democratic.

It ignores the will of Baltimore voters. And should Mayor Martin O'Malley or any member of the City Council lose in September, they'll set lame-duck longevity records; more than a year will go by between the primary and the general election.

To have a government without general election endorsement of the voters is simply not good government.

If you wanted to deflate voter interest in candidates or policies, you might well consider a plan like this one. Voters could see through the dizzying schedule or give up and stay home.

Mr. Miller says he wants to avoid a situation in which city officials - including Mayor O'Malley - can run for state office (governor, perhaps) without risking losing their current offices. This can happen now because the statewide primary and general elections precede city general elections by a year. A city incumbent could run for the state office and keep a government paycheck even if he or she lost; that's a free shot, in political parlance.

Del. Salima Siler Marriott, head of the Baltimore delegation in Annapolis, did her best to represent city voters. She was willing to accept the proper solution offered by the state Senate, in which the city would hold a primary in September 2004 and a general election two months later. But Mr. Miller hitched that to a proposal for giving the next group of city officials just two-year terms, by shifting the city's primary and general elections to 2006 - so city and state would be on the same election cycle.

His goal has some merit. But a two-year path to that goal would handicap city government.

The current cycle, with city elections held in presidential election years, has created no difficulties. It ought to be continued - and next year the 14-month gap must be closed by amending state law.

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