Baltimore City state Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-46th District) is worried about the state of democracy in Baltimore, across Maryland, and countrywide. “Voting is the fundamental building block of any democracy,” he says, “and the numbers of those voting is a smaller percentage than it should or could be, particularly if you look at age cohorts of young and middle-aged voters.” This creates a “looming” problem for democracy, he concludes, so lawmakers need to find “new ways to reach citizens no matter their political persuasion,” so that society has “an informed populace that engages in the process” of electing its leaders. The dismal state of voting affairs in Baltimore City were made manifest, to much public hand-wringing, in the 2011 mayoral election. In the Democratic primary—the tally that, by default, determines the winner in this nearly one-party burg—victor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake got 38,829 votes, 8 percent of Baltimore’s voting-age population. Less than 10 percent of some districts’ electorates backed the winners in the City Council races.
Given this, perhaps Ferguson’s crisis isn’t so much looming as here already, at least in Baltimore. So Ferguson has introduced two bills in the current Maryland General Assembly session that aim to ease the way for those who aren’t Republicans or Democrats to engage in political life. One would make it easier for third parties, like the Green Party or the Libertarian Party, to retain status as officially recognized parties in the Free State, and the other would assure that the membership of state boards and commissions may include people who aren’t either Republicans or Democrats.
“Many voters seem to be a bit disillusioned” with the two major parties, says Ferguson, an observation borne out by the state’s voter-registration data showing that, as of January, 19 percent of Maryland’s 3.7 million registered voters and 13 percent of Baltimore City’s nearly 378,000 registered voters are neither Republicans nor Democrats.
“They can’t participate in the primary election,” Ferguson continues, which “contributes to malaise and disenchantment.” So he’s looking to find “ways to engage folks in the political process no matter their political persuasion,” he says, even though “it could be seen as self-defeating” since he’s “a strong Democrat and a believer in the Democratic Party.” Nonetheless, he concludes, “a more robust political system that involves people can only help.”
Full Article: Rocking the Vote – News and Features – Baltimore City Paper.