Wednesday, June 25, 2014

And the winner is... the voter

Its that time of year again... well, sort of.  The Democratic primary was held yesterday (in case you missed all those lawn signs and stacks of campaign literature being delivered to your door every day).  This year was the first time the primary was held in June, which is a deviation from years past, when it was held in September.  The primary was moved up to accommodate those in the military serving overseas and other Americans abroad.  I think its odd that this required moving the primary up 3 whole months, since this is 2014 and not 1814, and we have this thing called an absentee ballot which can be transported around the world in an airplane in a single day, but I digress.

The June primary meant that voter turnout was especially low this year.  Many people go on vacation in the summer, and with schools out of session, many people are not in the swing of things when it comes to politics and local issues.  These conditions meant that those who did vote tended to be people who are already involved in local politics and informed on local issues.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it means a fairly small group of people will ultimately determine who represents entire districts, counties, and the entire state.

An example of this is the race that will likely most affect Four Corners: the District 5 county council seat.

This years election was extremely close--and as of Wednesday night--we're still not sure who won.  This seat was tightly contested between community activist Evan Glass and state delegate Tom Hucker.  Both candidates are progressives with many similarities, but they had differing approaches to the campaign.  Evan Glass ran a grassroots campaign which mostly relied on individual support, although the campaign did receive late support from real estate and development interests.  Hucker's campaign had a much larger revenue stream, receiving substantial monetary donations from labor unions and other special interest groups.  In the end, the Hucker campaign had at least 4 times as much funding as the Glass campaign.  Despite this difference (and somehow remarkably), the two were only separated by 200 votes by the end of general voting.  Glass received 6,987, and Hucker received 7,184.  As of this writing, early votes were still being counted.  

It is interesting to note the vote totals that both candidates received (the other three candidates were not competitive with Glass and Hucker).  District 5 stretches from The DC line to Howard County, roughly generally following the Route 29 corridor.  The population is around 200,000 people, with the most densely populated areas being Silver Spring, Takoma Park, White Oak, and Fairland.  Whoever wins the election for the county council seat will have received around 7,000 votes.  That is less 5% of all District 5 residents.
Now, not all 200,000 people are eligible to vote in the primary.  If you are not a registered Democrat, you are basically excluded from local politics in this county.  Closed primaries require that people register with national political parties, and the primaries almost always determine the next elected officials, making the open elections in November a formality (I think closed primaries are anathema to the democratic process; no one should have to register with a private organization just to make their vote mean something).  If only half of District 5 voters are registered Democrats (and its probably way more than that) it still means less than 10% of voters decided the next county council member.

We'll find out soon enough who our next county councilmember is, but the delay is a nice lesson in the importance of voting.  In a contest like this, a few dozen votes can make a real difference.  So if you voted at Pine Crest or some other local polling place on Tuesday, congratulations on being an involved citizen!


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