Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

The Right To Vote

Posted by bsflag2007 on Sunday, January 20, 2008

Unless you happen to have a seventeen year old in your household, you may not be aware of a brewing controversy regarding his right to vote in the upcoming primary in Howard County. We have been working on understanding and addressing this issue in my own household for a couple of weeks, including contemplating bringing suit. I was please to see an article in this morning’s Baltimore Sun (howard county section) which will hopefully alert the general public to the current situation.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/howard/bal-ho.politics20jan20,0,1843358.story

Basically the situation is this: Americans who are eighteen years old are legally entitled to vote. In many cases, there are primary elections held to determine what candidates will appear on the ballot for the general election. Since those who will be eighteen on the day of the general election are affected by the process which determines who will be on that ballot, it follows that they ought to be allowed to participate in the “primaries” which lead up to the actual general election in which they are legally entitled to participate.

Therefore, individuals who are not yet eighteen but will be on the date of the general election are “allowed” to vote in the applicable primary.

However, as of this writing, it is the intention of the Howard County Board of Elections to limit this “right” and in effect eliminate it for many. Based on “advice” received from the Maryland Attorney General’s office, eligible and registered seventeen year olds will be allowed to vote ONLY for candidates in their registered party. This is also true for those who are already eighteen. Howard County limits voters in primaries to their “own” party. Registered Independent voters are ONLY allowed to cast a vote for non-partisan races.

There will be other races on the February 12 primary ballot which are “non-partisan” – for example, school board candidates. Those who are already eighteen on the day of the primary are allowed to cast a vote in the contested school board primary. However, those who are not yet eighteen will NOT be allowed to cast votes for “non-partisan” races.

Seventeen year olds who registered as “Independent” will NOT be allowed to vote at all.

This is based on the notion that seventeen year olds are ONLY being allowed to vote in the partisan races because of their “right to Freedom of Association” – that registered political parties have a right to allow this “accommodation” to “their” voters.

I have a number of issues with this practice and the supporting “logic”.

However, the main issue is the fractured thinking about partisan rights and “plain citizen” rights.

It is reasonable that primary elections are held to narrow down the candidates who will be on the general election ballot. However, I do not concede the difference between the process to narrow the choices offered by the political “clubs” (Republican or Democrat) and the process to narrow the options available to ALL voters in races which are not officially affiliated with the “clubs” – ie, School Board candidates.

Unless the “state” interest in narrowing the ballot choices transcends political parties and is, in fact, an act in the interest of the public good – then the “state” should not be funding the narrowing down exercise solely for these political clubs.

If there is a legitimate state interest in narrowing the ballot choices – then the same interest is shared with the non-partisan ballot choices.

School Board candidates (and any other non-partisan race candidates) have as much right to appeal to their potential voters as those who are members of political clubs – and citizens who will be voting in the general election have as much right to participate in the candidate narrowing process for non-partisan elections as they do (if not more) than the club members.

Personally, I think the very minor argument that “clubs” don’t want non club members skewing their results pale in comparison to the questions of whether the state ought to be funding solely political club exercises —- and whether SOME legitimate general election voters ought to be precluded from supporting their chosen candidates in the primaries.

Our family has been investigating the options for bringing suit to ensure our soon to be eighteen year old will not have her right to vote censored.

Frankly, I believe Howard County takes a very illogical stance in the way it handles primaries limiting participation based on political club participation. “Swing” voters and “Independents” are likely to be the deciding factor again this year. Both major clubs are potentially harmed by excluding these voters from their primaries. Many other jurisdiction provide “open” primaries without problems with cross party voting manipulations.

In a supposedly open society it is only reasonable to err on the side of openness.

Cindy Vaillancourt

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5 Responses to “The Right To Vote”

  1. Jim Walsh said

    The simple solution is just not let 17 year olds vote at all. After all, a primary election is still an election, and I see no constitutional requirement that says that a future adult may exercise adult privileges and responsibilities now.

    That said, I agree that bi-partisan primaries to decide non-partisan Board of Education candidates is nonsense.

  2. cynthia vaillancourt said

    I see your point. Although I am not usually in favor of making decisions based solely on what’s “easier” – unless it is also what is “right”.

    At first blush I had the same thought. But there are a couple of things which have given me pause.

    One – primaries are not really “elections” in the sense that they do not determine public policy or office. What they do is narrow down the choices which will be on the “actual” ballot. So, if you are a person legally entitled to cast a ballot in the actual election, I suppose it makes sense that you ought to be allowed to participate in the narrowing down process- otherwise, your “right” to vote for the candidate of your choice in the actual election when you are legally entitled has been compromised.
    If that is not persuasive – consider the timing of the primary. depending on the date the primary is held – some folks who were 17 prior to the general election will be allowed to vote and some won’t. You have to be 18 in January in Iowa but in Maryland you don’t have to be 18 until November — or next time in September?

    Obviously there needs to be a cut off – which is nationally the date of the general election. Is it “fair” for different jurisdictions to extend the right to participate to some but not all who are legally entitled to vote in November? Is it reasonable for Maryland to change that date yearly?

    Two- the state funds these narrowing down exercises called “primary elections”. As they do not actually determine public policy or office, and in our case serve disproportionately as a service to the political parties, do national age limits “have” to apply? The answer is clearly “no” – the option to allow citizens who will be voting in the actual election the ability to help advance the candidate of their choice to the actual election is up to the individual jurisdictions.

    When some citizens” have “more” rights than other citizens just because of their address – that ought too worry all of us.

    In my case – I would prefer my town, my county, err on the side of inclusion, more rights.

    cindy v

  3. timactual said

    ” otherwise, your “right” to vote for the candidate of your choice in the actual election when you are legally entitled has been compromised”

    Not if you can cast a write-in vote.

    “When some citizens” have “more” rights than other citizens just because of their address – that ought too worry all of us.”

    What right does anyone have to vote in a primary since, as you say, they do not actually determine policy or office?

  4. cynthia vaillancourt said

    writing in after the primary is a good thought – though you’d have to agree a less promising prospect.

    on the other point – an argument that no one has a right… but we’ll let some do it … and let that select group have a disproportionate influence on shaping the general election … but it won’t matter because everyone gets a chance at the final decision … strikes me as familiar… oh, yeah, the attorney general shares this dismissive slightly circular thought process.

    a question more on point is whether all citizens have the same rights – not whether primaries are worthwhile.

    cindy v

  5. […] a blogger over Howard County Maryland Blog, and a Howard County resident with a 17-year-old in her house, wrote about, of all things, Howard […]

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