Monthly Archives: February 2014

Soviet Union Had Elections Too

I grew up in Finland. In my youth in the 70’s and early 80’s, the Soviet Union was still going strong—at least it seemed that way. As a small country with a long border with the communist behemoth, our media paid attention to what was happening to the east of us.

One of the more comical things I remember about the Soviet Union was the news about its elections. (You may be surprised to find out that the Soviets had elections, but it is definitely true.) The Communist Party apparatus carefully selected the candidates for the elections, and these candidates always got more than 99% of the vote. Even a young kid could figure out that these were not true competitive elections. But, they were called elections nevertheless, and there apparently was an illusion of voters choosing their political leaders.

Now, I am not going to tell you that the Maryland primary elections are as bad as those Soviet elections. But, the difference is not nearly as great as most Marylanders think. Especially when it comes to lower ballot races with small budgets, the impact of a well-funded incumbent slate and its “sample ballot” advertisement cannot be overemphasized. Yes, it is possible to beat a candidate endorsed by the slate of incumbents. But, the odds are stacked heavily in favor of the candidate who appears on that sample ballot. For every person who actually researches the candidates and makes an informed, independent choice in a lower ballot race, there are surely three or four people who will vote for the person on the sample ballot without doing any further research.

In our primaries we have an illusion of real elections. But, the sad truth is, it is the party insiders that make the choices for us. It is not exactly like the Soviets used to do it, but the parallels are too great for my taste.

Missed Special Election Could Have Been a Real Election

The fact that County Executive Baker took his time to appoint a new District 9 Board of Education member made me think that in those three months we could have had a special election to fill the seat. As I pondered this, I also came to realize that, under our current system of slates and sample ballots, having a special election to fill a vacancy on the BOE would likely provide voters with a rare chance to have a real election for such a lower ballot office. If there was a special election where there are no other races on the ballot, I would be very surprised if an incumbent slate dedicated significant financial resources to the race. Thus, a special election could provide us with a real election where all the candidates would compete on an even field and they would need to win on their own merits. Wouldn’t that be something special?

Of course, this is just a meaningless mental exercise since the County Executive and his buddies in the Maryland Legislature decided in their infinite wisdom that we should not bother with elections to fill openings on the BOE. Still, even the idea of a real election for a BOE seat got me pretty excited.