Voter turnout can be downright abysmal in off-years or midterm elections. Presidential races taking place every four years can be dynamic and exciting, but the outcomes of local elections between those four-year spans have a far greater impact on the average citizen's daily life.
If you’re doubting the influence of your vote in 2018, consider the outcome of a recent Virginia midterm election where Democrat Shelly Simonds and Republican David Yancey were caught in a dead heat to serve as a state delegate. A three-judge panel allowed a single, questionable ballot to be counted in favor of Yancey, ending the election in a tie. The decision will be determined by the State Board of Elections by drawing one of the two names from a hat. Should Simonds be chosen, her high-stakes victory would end a 17 year GOP control of the House which is now evenly split between both parties.
It's a rare instance where an election would boil down to a single ballot, but it does underscore the importance of each vote that's cast in an election. National averages show that six out of ten voters will simply opt out of presidential elections and even more will simply ignore the midterms. The question is whether non-voters would stay home if they understood the issues, knew more about the candidates, or had the encouragement of their community to join in the election process?
Survey’s show the reason for electoral apathy is that voters don’t feel they know the candidates well enough to cast an informed vote. In stark contrast, seasoned voters can't wait to cast their ballot regardless of their knowledge of the issues or candidate platforms. They are just compelled to exercise their right. With the advent of absentee balloting and early voting, it has become increasingly convenient and accommodating for faithful and occasional voters to be heard.
The nearing midterm election will offer up local, state and federal candidates in Maryland. If you’re looking for drama, the 6th District that elects the next US Congressional Representative may be determined by Western Maryland voters, even though densely populated Montgomery County to the east contributes up to 50% of the district's votes.
Congressman John Delaney will be leaving his office following the 2018 election in pursuit of a presidential bid for the White House. Delaney’s voluntary exit invited a wide field of five Democrats and two Republicans looking to fill his seat for the 6th District. Following the 2010 census, accusations of gerrymandering brought parts of Frederick and Montgomery Counties into the previously Republican stronghold of Western Maryland which included all of Washington, Allegany, and Garrett Counties. Prior to the redistricting, voters leaned "right" but Frederick and Montgomery Counties skewed it toward Democratic voters. The large pool of Democrats running for Congress in 2018 splits the vote five ways, so just 30% of the vote could win the congressional primary for any of those competitors. Western Maryland support alone could determine who makes it to the General Election in November.
To understand local election dynamics, Garrett County has 19,544 registered voters. That’s impressive considering the entire population is roughly 30,000. If you exclude nearly 5,000 underage residents, about three quarters of the population could potentially cast their vote. The county owns the distinction as being a Republican-dominant county within a Democrat-dominant state. As of 2016, 12,466 Republicans, 4,425 Democrats, 2,369 Unaffiliated, 153 Other, 90 Libertarian, and 41 Green Party voters are eligible and active. Republicans outnumber all other affiliations combined by roughly two to one.
But before the GOP runs, a victory lap around Garrett County, it needs to be acknowledged that many Garrett County voters register as Republicans so they can participate in the primaries. Voters may only select candidates of the same party as their affiliation. This means if every candidate is a Republican, Democrats and other parties are excluded from the initial primary election process in Spring that determines the final candidates for the General Election in the Fall. Democratic and minority party candidates are at a disadvantage in Garrett County if voters stay true to their party affiliation but if issues and qualifications are a priority, anyone could win the popular vote.
Voter turnout can be historically predictable. New national numbers show the highest voter turnout is among women and voters above the age of fifty, college graduates, and individuals earning above $20K annually according to a 2014 study by Pew Research Center. If you are married, statistics from 2006 show you are nearly twice as likely to vote than those who are single.
County elections are unique in that candidates can have a circle of friends, family members, or belong to local organizations and church groups that establishes an immediate line of support and networking ahead of a campaign. Often, times candidates seeking local seats are running less of a campaign and more of a popularity contest. Name recognition can outweigh policy positions and experience even though the latter makes for a better representative in government. In less populated areas, it’s unlikely you will find seasoned political leaders with vast experience in government management. A lack of credentials can be replaced with measurable qualities such as trustworthiness, likability, reputation, and a good work ethic.
Before conceding to predictive outcomes, election anomalies can be found in the swing voter. This demographic can be occasional voters or those who abandon party affiliation. During election cycles where high-profile issues are at play, these sporadic voters can be compelled to participate and greatly influence election results. If candidates or party central committees can appeal to this group’s priorities, they’ve resurrected a valuable voting population.
To be a first-rate representative of the people, the job requires an ability to listen and digest a broad range of views and opinions. Candidates should express a willingness to work with others with whom they may disagree, have an ability to accept criticism, and treat the public as their equals. A vote is not only earned on election day, but every day once a candidate enters their official capacity. Your vote employs those who determine your community's future. It is important. It does make a difference, and it's a right you can enjoy as an American.