Maryland could have historically low voter turnout

The forecast shows clear skies over Maryland, yet there looms a perfect storm – one of apathy and non-voting on Primary Tuesday.

“Studies show you’re lucky to get 20 percent in primary elections,” Melissa Deckman, a professor of political science at Washington College, said of voter turnout.

But in Maryland, 20 percent may be a stretch when the polls close at 8 p.m.

Experts agree there is a general disinterest in the primary.

A Washington Post poll supports that claim. The poll shows 52 percent of voters did not pay close attention to the state’s gubernatorial race, compared to 38 percent in May 2010.

Complacency among Democrats and a general discontentment from Republicans no doubt fueled projections of low voter turnout. At its core there is a general lack of enthusiasm about the candidates, Deckman said.

Deckman, who also chairs the Department of Political Science at Washington College, is anticipating a possible “historically low” Republican voter turnout in particular.

“No one has really generated a lot of buzz on either side,” she added.

 But there are more clouds converging over Maryland’s Primary.

This is the first election cycle to feature a Maryland Primary in June, a month when potential voters are likely less concerned about public policy and more focused on vacation. The date was changed to comply with federal law.

“Part of it is the election cycle being changed,” John Bullock, an assistant professor at Towson University, said. “I do know that it has affected the normal campaign cycle, when the summer is normally used to build up support.”

Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College added, “people may have just not been paying enough attention.”

Nina Therese Kasniunas, an assistant professor of political science at Goucher, said she believes that calling Maryland voters apathetic may be a little harsh. She underscored that Maryland’s closed-primary system is a contributing factor to low voter turnout, but “in reality if that changed we’d see higher turnout but not much difference.”

Another problem she said, is that “everyone has been leaving it to the candidates to educate the voters, but they only focus on people who voted previously."

“When campaigns go out and spend their money they use a list of previous voters,” Kasniunas added.

She offered the example that if she was the only person who voted in the last election on her block, a campaigner canvassing her neighborhood would only knock on her door.

“In their mind it’s a waste of their time” to seek out new voters, Kasniunas said.

“Part of it is apathy, but you have to imagine you’re someone who has a busy life going on working a couple of jobs and you’re not politically inclined you’re not trying to find out if there is an election going on,” she added.

So what’s at stake if Maryland continues to show declines in voter turnouts?

“It drowns out the will of the people,” Kromer said. “That’s what people should be concerned about. It muddles the will of the people… The system only works when people show up.

“They shouldn’t be surprised when their perspective and their positions are not represented in government,” Kromer added.  

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