Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Takoma Park voters will decide if city elections move to Maryland statewide election days

The Takoma Park City Council voted 4-3 last night to approve an advisory ballot measure allowing city elections to move from odd-numbered years to even ones, placing them on the same days as Maryland holds statewide elections. This would mean, for example, that Takoma Park would vote for mayor and city council candidates on the same day they cast votes in a Presidential election.

The measure, introduced by Councilmember Tim Male (Ward 2), would retain provisions for city elections already in use, such as allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote, and permitting non-citizens to cast ballots. Instant runoff voting and same-day registration would continue for Takoma Park, as well as allowing felons on probation or parole to vote.

Some on the council expressed dismay at the lack of interest in voting among residents. Councilmember Fred Schultz (Ward 6) said changing the date wouldn't change voters' sense that their votes don't make a difference. There haven't been enough contested and competitive council races, Schultz said, making voting seem a waste of time. More has to be done to tackle the problem than this measure, he argued.

Councilmember Jarrett Smith (Ward 5) concurred, noting that simply having more people voting doesn't necessarily increase engagement in a meaningful way. County Council seats are on the ballot on even-year election days, Smith said, and the results haven't reflected the demographics of County Council District 5. Smith said that County Council District is 60% minority, but elected a white councilmember in 2014.

Ward 1 Councilman Seth Grimes said those realities shouldn't dissuade the city from implementing this potential change. "No single solution is going to solve everything," Grimes said.

Grimes, Male, Councilmember Kate Stewart (Ward 3), and Councilmember Terry Seamens (Ward 4) voted in favor of the ballot question being put to the voters. Mayor Bruce Williams, Schultz and Smith dissented.

Photo courtesy City of Takoma Park

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