When voters go to the polls, it is not uncommon for them to encounter many names they may not recognize, especially as they move further down the ballot. In elections like the primary that recently occurred in Prince George’s County, this is not an unusual occurrence as voters had to make several choices, starting at Governor and moving all the way down to Register of Wills. I’m not even sure many of the positions should be chosen by elected office, since John and Jane Q. Public may have no idea how to adequately evaluate qualifications in these cases.
In other cases, however, some candidates who filed for important positions, such as delegate or County Council, were still barely recognizable at the polls. Often, I was hard pressed to locate their campaign materials, a website, or anything else that might prove that they were legitimate contenders for elected office. Some made a last ditch effort to post road signs or show up at a public forum, but had little presence otherwise to prove they were serious candidates. A few candidates did not even bother to provide responses about their campaign platforms in voter guides for the Washington Post and the Gazette.
While I have not followed up with them personally, I wonder what these candidates might have been thinking about their opportunity to actually win, given their minimal effort. Did they believe they could drive up the middle in a crowded field and steal enough votes to win? Did they lack the resources to print materials and signage? Were their calendars too crowded with other commitments to present their platforms at public forums? I’m not sure of their answers to these questions, but I am suspicious about their motives.
As I learned while working as a campaign volunteer, and seasoned politicians are sure to know, many voters do not take the time to research their choices down the ballot. In general, a crowded field always makes it more difficult for competitors to stand out from the other candidates. Because names are also listed in alphabetical order on the ballot, it benefits those who have serious competitors to crowd the field with candidates whose last names begin with “A” or “B.” By doing so, uninformed voters may be more likely to check off the first or second name they see on the ballot, which allows unknown candidates to steal a couple of percentage points from legitimate contender.
It’s unfortunate that candidates who file for office but never initiate a public campaign, knock on doors to ask for your vote, or even open accounts to pay for any campaign materials, are able to be on the ballot. Of course, that’s how our democracy works, and I do not believe we can prohibit anybody from seeking elected office. Unfortunately, mystery candidates are often able to muster a few hundred votes that separate the winners and losers in local races. The Board of Elections should do their part by requiring a random order of candidates on the ballot following the filing deadline, to prevent the political machine from manipulating voters in this way. If I accomplish one thing from this blog, however, I hope it is the fact that voters will take the time to find out what their candidates stand for and ensure that they are truly concerned about representing their districts, and not just simply playing a role in political games.