Gubernatorial cycle the right time for Baltimore elections

March 23, 2012

The Baltimore City Election Change Coalition, a citywide coalition of nine organizations, supports changing the date of the Baltimore City primary election to coincide with the gubernatorial election cycle ("The right time for city elections," March 22). Doing so will save money — nearly $3.7 million in the city and $270,000 for the state.

Many politicians support changing the election cycle to align with the presidential cycle. But there are a number of reasons why the coalition favors the gubernatorial over the presidential cycle. Over the past 10 years, data from the Maryland Board of Elections on voter turnout in both gubernatorial and presidential primary elections show that voter turnout was greater in gubernatorial than presidential primaries. The "Obama surge" in the 2008 presidential primary was a major exception in turnout.

The presidential primary is scheduled for the first week in April, and the gubernatorial primary is scheduled for the last week in June. Since nearly 80 percent of Baltimore City voters are Democrats, under the presidential cycle, candidates for city offices would be elected nine months before taking office. The gubernatorial primary is a good two months later, shortening the length of time between the primary and taking office.

Adopting the gubernatorial cycle would eliminate the practice of filling city offices with un-elected officials when city officials choose to run for other offices and win. Adopting the presidential primary cycle would continue the current practice that allows city officials (and state officials) to run for other offices without the risk of losing their current position. Finally, it would align the Baltimore City election cycle with those of all the other counties in the state.

The House Ways and Means Committee has the opportunity to vote HB1119 out of committee, which would align the Baltimore City primary election with the gubernatorial election cycle. We urge them to support this bill.

The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee, on the other hand, approved SB597 with amendments that would align the primary with the presidential cycle.

So why did the Senate committee support the presidential cycle? It appears that many members of the Baltimore City Senate delegation reached a decision to support the presidential cycle before hearing from their Baltimore City constituents or members of the coalition. The original Senate bill, which supported the gubernatorial cycle, was amended under pressure from the city delegation at least a month before the hearing on the bill. Senator Joan Carter Conway, chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee, left the room during the March 8th hearing on the Baltimore City primary election bill.

It is probably not coincidental that the only person testifying in support of the presidential cycle has been a sole representative from the Mayor's office. It is our belief that city politicians favor the presidential primary cycle because it allows them to run for another office without giving up their current seat. But when they win, their unexpired term is filled by promotion, not a special election. This is not a democratic process, and it would not exist if Baltimore City municipal elections were aligned with the gubernatorial cycle.

We fully agree with the Baltimore Sun editorial that calls for the Senate to reject SB597. In the meantime, we believe it is time for a public debate on the Baltimore City election cycle and invite our lawmakers in Annapolis to engage with their constituents and members of the Coalition.

Gail Sunderman, Baltimore

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