My Problem with Slates and Their “Sample Ballots”

Why do I think incumbent slates and their “sample ballots” are so bad? – Rather than try to rehash my thoughts on the issue, I will refer to my letter to the Gazette that was published in May 2013:

Elect qualified, not connected, candidates in Prince George’s

As one followed the recent debate about the governance of Prince George’s County Public Schools, it seems all parties agreed on one thing: We have not always elected the best and most capable candidates for the Board of Education. As we ponder this, we should reflect on how our elections are conducted.

To understand how our current system works, let’s look at a hypothetical BOE election race: Candidate A is a longtime community activist who is knowledgeable about educational issues and has children in the system. Candidate B is a politically ambitious person who happens to be friends with the local County Council member. Before the election, the council member convinces his fellow incumbent politicians to include Candidate B on the sample ballot that will be mailed to every registered primary voter in the district. The mailing, of course, is funded by a slate formed by the local incumbents.

After this turn of events, what are the chances of Candidate A winning the race? We all know the answer: slim to none. Effectively, the County Council member and his fellow incumbents are the people who decide the race, but there is no guarantee their preferred candidate is the most capable person for the job.

Sadly, this hypothetical situation is reality in many of our lower ballot races. We, the citizens, must demand change and real elections. We deserve elections where all candidates must sink or swim based on their own merits.

Tommi Makila, Accokeek

In the larger election reform context, I would only add one major point to the argument I made in my letter: The slates and their sample ballots make the incumbency protection
nearly fool-proof. As incumbents representing the same area or district usually band together, it is almost impossible for a challenger to amass enough resources to beat an otherwise vulnerable incumbent. Thus, for a politician to stay in office, all he or she needs to do is keep the fellow incumbents happy. As long as your name is on the slate-funded sample ballot mailed to every voter in your district, you really don’t have to worry about challengers.

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