Although incumbent Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake topped her challengers with over 50 percent of the vote in Baltimore City’s mayoral primary, some say the win “doesn’t mean much” since less than 25 percent of registered voters showed up.
Just 22 percent of eligible Baltimore residents took to the polls in what was presumably the worst voter turnout for a primary in the city’s history. Election officials say the previous record low was 27 percent in 1991.
The record low turnout continues a decade-old trend of diminished interest in city politics. When then- City Councilman Martin O’Malley won the mayoral primary in 1999, 48 percent of those registered cast their vote. Turnout retreated to 37 percent in 2003, 29 percent in 2007 and now 22 percent this year, according to election officials.
Rawlings-Blake said she was disturbed by the low turnout.
"I hoped for a larger turnout,” she told reporters the day after the primary. “My campaign put considerable resources in place yesterday, as well as money to get the vote out.”
Johns Hopkins political science professor Lester Spence says it takes more than money to attract the electorate, especially on an off season without a gubernatorial or presidential race.
He said elected officials must speak more about everyday concerns of voters and work harder to explain how their political decisions impact their lives.
“The issue of property taxes doesn’t really bring voters streaming into the polls,” Spence said in an email. “When the candidates somehow decided that was the issue, they pretty much made sure there wouldn't be a groundswell of new candidates. “
And something should be done, he says, because voter apathy tends to “reproduce the status quo.”
Dr. Marvin L. Cheatham Sr., the former president of the NAACP Baltimore Chapter who has worked several voter registration campaigns, said the electorate was “disenchanted, uneducated and non-energized.”
Poor media coverage and so few contested races contributed to the turnout as well as an overall lack of energy surrounding voter registration, he shared with listeners as he sat in for Sen. Larry Young on the WOLB Radio One morning show.
“We do not have an office, like during Kirk Schmoke’s administration, that devoted time to registration, education and mobilization,” he added.
He says the city’s high number of felons also played a role.
“When former felons do not vote, their family members basically don’t vote either,” Cheatham said. “For every one former felon, you can triple that number if he or she is the head of the household.”
Many Baltimore City residents sounded off on social media sites about why they chose not to vote. Quite a few expressed similar sentiments—politicians don’t have the public’s interest at heart and even if one candidate did, residents feel their vote wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the race—Rawlings-Blake wins.
Daleisha Johnson posted on Facebook, “I really don’t care anymore it’s the same thing each and every year with the same broken promises.”
Others suggested that residents in poverty-stricken, disenfranchised communities are disillusioned by city government.
Harry Quade said “People lost faith in their leaders. And they are so fed up with all the deceptions and thievery.”
“People have learned their vote doesn't do much (Obama broke that spirit), but seeing Baltimore politicians posture isn't better,” said Jay Holla. “O'Malley standing behind Rawlings for her speech showed it’s the same ole good ole boy network with the same things coming… Its sad cause Rawlings went to a public school and Baltimore city schools are the worse. Why vote for more of the same?
Others said the candidates weren’t intriguing enough.
“Voters only come out when they passionately like or dislike someone or an issue,” explained Peggy Peters. “I don't think anyone who is running for office these days inspires us much either direction. When someone finally runs for office again who we think will actually accomplish something and not just spout off a lot of political rhetoric, then turn out will likely increase.”
One commenter suggested that voting would increase if residents could vote online.
Still, some voters expressed frustration with those who chose not to vote.
Said Dan Walsh, “Well Baltimore, how do expect to have changes if you're not willing to come out and vote!”