Since Democrats are in the majority, Baltimore’s 2016 mayoral election will likely be decided in the April primary, rather than the November general election. But this week, a pair of City Councilmen are making a proposal that could give the general election more meaning.
The 2016 mayoral is the first since the city’s election process was changed in 2012 to schedule local elections and presidential elections in the same year, instead of “off-years” with few other races. While there was debate about whether the local elections should fall on the same year as gubernatorial elections instead, the change was billed as a move to get more voters participating in local elections, which have notoriously low turnout. Since more people pay attention to presidential elections, the thinking is that voters will also vote in a mayoral race that is also on the ballot.
But Councilmembers Bill Henry and Brandon Scott think city elections could have even more participants, and more democracy as a result.
They filed a measure this week that calls on the state to change up the city’s election process that would be a “nonpartisan” primary. Under this system, candidates from all parties would run in a primary election, where voters from any party affiliation could participate.
Typically, the so-called “jungle primary” system features the top two candidates from the election squaring off in a runoff, unless one candidate reached a majority threshold like 50 or 60 percent of the vote. Right now, getting the most votes in the primary is enough to win, effectively deciding the general, as well. Scott and Henry say this situation potentially leads to “a city of well over half a million being governed by people who were the first choice of only a few thousand residents.”
That rings especially true when it comes to Baltimore’s already-crowded mayoral election field for 2016. Instead of a single candidate winning with a fraction of the vote amid a struggle to stand out from a dozen rivals, a runoff following the primary would let voters compare qualities of two candidates, head-to-head.
Henry and Scott add that the partisan primary system effectively closes people who aren’t Democrats out of the voting process to elect leaders. Additionally, 80 percent of the country’s other large cities have some form of nonpartisan process.
“Partisan elections may have had their time and place in our city but, that time has come and gone,” Scott wrote. “Our closed primaries directly fights against the core base of democracy by excluding so many in our city from the decision to pick their leaders.”
The details of the plan would ultimately have to be left up to the state. Scott and Henry’s proposal merely calls on the Maryland General Assembly to consider changing the system.
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