Of primary importance

March 02, 2004

GOT THE Super Tuesday blues? Feeling like your vote today in the Republican or Democratic party primaries won't matter because some races seem already decided and others were never a contest?

That's an understandable reaction to a system badly in need of several reforms. But not an accurate one. There's still time to influence the presidential nominating process, even on the GOP side, where President Bush is running unopposed. And in many parts of the state there are some hot local races that could be decided by a few votes.

What's more, the new electronic balloting equipment will be up for review as voters all over Maryland try out the ATM-style gadgets touted to be more accurate and efficient than the hodgepodge of methods used in the state previously.

National attention will be focused today on the Democratic presidential contests in Maryland and nine other states, where North Carolina Sen. John Edwards is trying to brake the front-runner momentum of his Massachusetts colleague, John Kerry.

But there are also nine other presidential choices on Maryland's Democratic primary ballot, as well as dozens of candidates in each congressional district for the state's 69 convention delegate slots. That makes for lots of strategic permutations, such as choosing Mr. Kerry for president, but delegates backing platform issues raised by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

Maryland Republicans also have the option of choosing convention delegates other than those selected by Mr. Bush, who might be more independent on the platform.

One step both parties should take at their conventions would be to allow for greater voter participation in the 2008 primaries by delaying and compressing the schedule.

Three-term Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and all eight members of Maryland's congressional delegation will also be on the ballot today, with most facing little or no opposition -- thanks to the enormous advantages incumbents have. But turnout could be important in the First and Sixth congressional districts, where Republicans Wayne T. Gilchrest and Roscoe G. Bartlett are under fire from fellow Republicans who charge they are "too liberal" for their Eastern Shore and Western Maryland constituents.

Perhaps the most intense contests in the state this year, however, are those even farther down the ballot, where voters in both parties will encounter identical lists of candidates for Circuit Court judge.

Most judges arrive on the Circuit Court by gubernatorial appointment after a lengthy professional screening by their peers. But to secure a hold on their 15-year terms, they must stand for election in nonpartisan contests against all challengers.

Sitting judges in Anne Arundel, St. Mary's, Frederick, Harford and Baltimore counties are facing such challenges, some of them expected to be successful, if only because incumbents aren't identified. Here ballot-box pressures on what are supposed to be nonpolitical offices are too great.

But don't let the need for reforms in any of these areas discourage participation. Vote for those who will make it better.

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