Maryland 2014 Election Lessons, Part 3. Democratic Turnout

(Updated 11-16-2014 to include alternative solutions in the conclusion.)

It’s past time for Democratic leaders in Montgomery County to snap out of their funk over the amazing shrinking turnout of MoCo voters. 

Nancy Floreen says everyone’s scratching their heads about it.

Marc Elrich says people simply don’t want to vote.

The simple explanation for low Democratic turnout in Montgomery and Prince George’s County and Baltimore City is right in front of our elected leaders eyes, but they can’t see the obvious.

Democrats vote in presidential elections.

But off-year election results in Montgomery County are foreordained. We’re talking about the General Elections for governor, and other state and local officials.

If you already know who’s going to win, why waste your time voting?

In Montgomery County, voters know the outcome is not in doubt. Democratic candidates will surely win, and Republicans will lose. Isn’t that what happened last week? Isn’t that what’s happened in most recent elections? Every Democratic candidate in the Montgomery County General Election won. Every Republican lost. Case closed.

Same exact conditions apply in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City. Together, MoCo, PG, and The City provide most of the Democratic votes that paint the whole state Blue.

The flip side of the story is: Republican voters are spread all over the map. And those pesky Republicans vote with more discipline than we Democrats.

Ironically, Democrats are victims of our own success. The outcome is a foregone conclusion in the Big Three, where most of the Democrats live. If your party is going to win, regardless of whether you vote or not, why make any effort to go vote?

Democratic apathy in MoCo, PG and The City translates to disaster in the statewide totals for governor.

Did Larry Hogan really win the governor’s election. Yes, he really did.  Would Anthony Brown have won if all the Democrats came out and voted? Yes, of course.

Democratic apathy is worst in the Big Three. But we also have plenty more Democrats throughout Central Maryland who sit out the non-presidential  elections. I’m talking about  suburban Howard County (Purple) and Anne Arundel County (Red). Also, to a lesser extent, Charles County (Blue). Every Democrat who stays home, wherever they live, is a Democratic vote subtracted from the grand total. Larry Hogan won the grand total.

Baltimore County is a special case. It’s Maryland’s swing jurisdiction. It can go Blue or Red. This year it went Red in the governor’s race. Nonetheless, I know we have lukewarm Baltimore County Democrats who often vote Republican. And real Democrats who simply don’t vote at all.

Meanwhile, in the outlying suburbs, Harford County is Red, Frederick County is Red, but maybe trending Purple. And Carroll County!  Carroll is so Red it’s in danger of spontaneous combustion. The rural counties of the Eastern Shore, Western Maryland, and Southern Maryland are all Red. Their populations may be small, but the votes add up.

Our Democratic problem is a lack of suspense, especially in Montgomery and Prince George’s. We need to inject some doubt into the outcome of General Elections so Democrats are motivated to vote.

One solution to this conundrum is for Democrats in the Big Three to lose one or two County Council seats and the occasional General Assembly seat to Republican candidates. Lose a few seats in MoCo, PG, and The City, and  Voila! Your turnout problem is solved! Democrats retain control of the General Assembly and local councils, and our statewide candidates cruise to victory. As an added bonus, Republicans would have to stop bellyaching about Maryland being a “one-party state.”

The above “solution” sounds about as appealing as swallowing a tablespoon of political poison.  A better solution would require  much greater awareness of local politics in the Washington suburbs, creation of a broader, more inclusive Democratic organization, and deployment of a more effective GOTV campaign. (Get Out The Vote) Quite a challenge! Organizing Democrats in the suburbs is like herding cats.

— John Hayden

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