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October 24, 2006

These Elections

Roy Meachum

Rationalizing their irresponsibility in democracy's single most significant element, non-voters protest "What difference does my vote make?

This is not a column about proving them wrong. They wouldn't entertain the idea of a debate anyway. They are content to play their partisan games and let the chips fall on anyone else.

This year their excuse has been made lots stronger by the likes of Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Gov. Robert Ehrlich. All three gentlemen, Democrats and a Republican, have told the world they plan to use absentee ballots. None expresses faith in the new machines.

Of course, if one of the powerful trio had ranted and raved against the Diebold-computer system earlier, we would be almost certainly checking off our favored names in a radically different way. Their protests coming at the last moment strike me as political garbage.

His adherents might claim Mr. Ehrlich was first in line, well before the mayor and the county executive. What they really mean is his attempt to fire elections administrator Linda Lamone. Democrats rightfully assumed the governor was attempting to grab another power post for his Republican Party. Ms. Lamone was appointed by ex-Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat.

Considering what happened in the 2000 presidential race, State Sen. Mike Miller (D., PG/Calvert) and his crew's ferocious battle to keep Ms. Lamone on seemed justified; not only this year but through 2008 when the White House becomes vacant again. They want no repeat of the suspect way Florida wound up giving George W. Bush its 25 electoral votes. That was the difference in winning the White House.

With the Sunshine State in his column, Democratic nominee Al Gore would have had that victor's stroll along Pennsylvania Avenue. He topped Mr. Bush in the popular vote and went into Florida only 15 electoral votes behind. The GOP did not emerge from that election with clean hands.

The real skunk in the woodpile, however, was aging agitator Ralph Nader and his "pox" on both major parties stance. His name appeared on enough Florida ballots that tallied on either side their strength would have given both "serious" candidates the state.

Because everyone knows how politicians, Democrats and Republicans, manipulate the voting process, the sentiment for dismissing the individual's capability of playing a significant role in elections rages. As a direct consequence, we have seen local elections merely attracting 16 percent of registered voters. Presidential races barely attract 50 percent of the names on the roll.

Indeed, while both parties parrot a similar song of trying to get out the vote, there's some reason to believe neither side really means it. Their intention is to rally their followers while trying to discourage anyone who supports the other side.

In some jurisdictions, notably Georgia, political partisans, in the manner of the Ku Klux Klan, have brazenly tried to deny people their constitutional right to vote. The poll tax is long gone as the method for barring blacks at the polling place; the nation must now contend with the insistence of identification that some folks simply don't possess.

In a very real sense, the ranting and raving against Maryland's electoral system strikes me as more of the same. Raising dire expectations about the possibility that invalid ballots can do nothing, in a big way, encourages the attitude that a single vote alone is insignificant. In reality, I can see nothing to gain by the state's Democratic majority in preaching that line.

It is my firm belief that the party leaders have been forced into backing the GOP line that the only safe vote can be on an absentee ballot. As other political issues, especially the Iraq war, politicians fear very much being placed in a position opposite to public opinion. There has been such a groundswell against the new voting machines that we must accept they are critters only their mothers can love.

No special knowledge rests in my bald head, behind the beard; I simply believe that after what happened in Florida - with Diebold machines involved - forced the company to seek and research a reliable method to record and report how Maryland votes on November 7.

Governor Ehrlich's attack, echoed by leading Democrats, shocked me, in a major way. Knowing the Republicans' only hope is to keep the majority of registered Democrats home, I find myself aghast at how politicians opposed to the GOP rush to certify our November 7 votes invalid.

Looking at both parties on this issue, I am left wondering who will lead Maryland to the Promised Land, where the Constitution prevails. From my perch on North Market Street, the view is very, very limited.

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