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January 9, 2009

Statue for George Wenschhof

Roy Meachum

Frederick and its citizens should erect a new statue on the City Hall lawn. George Wenschhof earned it.


His proudly Democratic website has gone in territory that neither party would approach in the recent past. George's conversations and interviews lead him to publish a column Monday on the need to move municipal elections from their isolated off-year date. ("City of Frederick, MD Election Date Change Update" at


His timing couldn't be better. The Frederick County Board of Elections came close to not renewing the contract to run municipal races. The convenient arrangement saved the city the hassle of hiring judges. Stuart Harvey pointed out manpower was the county's biggest cost; he runs Winchester Hall's election machinery.


Mr. Harvey said the arrangement has cost City Hall about $100,000 the past two elections. Starting on their own, the mayor and Board of Aldermen would face a plethora of complexities, including cost. Moving Frederick races to a presidential year, as Mr. Wenschhof suggested, would lower the price (and pay for George's statue).


Cost is not the biggest factor in suggesting the change. Turnout is. With municipal participation running slightly above 30 percent, national elections should more than double the outcome. When all ballots were counted last presidential year, Frederick voters exercised their privileges, with above 80 percent.


In doing his survey, former columnist Wenschhof found little resistance to the idea of change, much of it coming from politicians' fear. They put forth the idea that local media would have no time or space for local campaigns; they talked of a shortage of reporters to cover both. No one pointed out, however, no county medium directly employs journalists who concentrate on presidential races. With all major news sources concentrating on Frederick stories, local elections are guaranteed to be broadcast and published.


Mr. Wenschhof fielded no adverse opinion on the certainty that combining the races would boost the local numbers. The gubernatorial voting is also accompanied by county elections for state-level offices. Presidential years carry only the burden for the Sixth Congressional District that occurs every two years.


The lamest-brain reason for keeping municipal balloting on its own came from Frederick Alderman Donna Kuzemchak; she prefers a smaller turnout because she feels the few voters might be better informed. It should be pointed out the Constitution does not include that requirement.


In fact, the segregationists employed that ploy to bar African American voters. They insisted blacks didn't understand the issues enough to vote. In some instances, they blatantly asserted an applicant for a ballot did not understand the nuances of the system enough; they required a precise answer to a question based on an obscure item.


This approach is not, of course, what Ms. Kuzemchak said; she is concerned about voters who step into booths who might not remember candidates' names. I've been there. My first Frederick election I voted for only people I read or heard about. I was still working in Washington. Nevertheless, as a citizen, I was qualified to vote in city races. I exercised the privilege.


The sole reason I can accept for the municipal elections being scheduled on their lonesome? In the days of county political bosses, they could control the results by lining up their faithful. The smaller the voting, the larger their influence. In terms of democracy, it stank to high heaven.


After conversations and research, George Wenschhof suggested in his column that officials elected this fall face the voters in three years to coincide with the 2012 presidential race. That makes all the sense in the world.


Since straightening out local democracy deserves the highest priority, Mayor Jeff Holtzinger should convene the aldermen to discuss and pass whatever charter changes are called for. Let's get on with it.


And by the way, the mayor may want to select a subcommittee to ascertain what's required to put George Wenschhof's statue on City Hall's lawn. It can be paid for, as I said, by the financial savings in rescheduling the elections.


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