A reminder about party affiliation in Maryland…

5 minute read

March 14, 2022, 2:40 PM

As we move ever closer to the midterm elections in Maryland, and the primaries that accompany them, this seems like the perfect time to remind everyone about the way that primaries are conducted in Maryland.  Specifically, Maryland, along with 13 other states plus DC, conducts closed primaries.  That means that the only way to participate in a primary election is to have registered your political party choice with the state voter registration system ahead of time, usually before a deadline. In the case of Maryland, that party deadline is June 7, 2022.  Party registration in a closed primary state is not something to be taken lightly, and determines which candidates you get to vote for in the primary.

All of this about party registration should not be confused with any actual political leanings that you may have.  In a jurisdiction that skews very heavily in one direction, and where party registration is required in advance in order to vote for a given party’s primary candidates, the only way that you get any say in your local governance is to register in that party.  In a situation like this, the primary election for that party is the election that decides the result, and the general election is just a formality, because the nominee of that party always carries the race by a very large margin, and the other general election candidates know that they have no real chance at winning.

(By the way, if all of this sounds vaguely familiar, this is not the first time that I have written about this subject.)

In any event, in these situations where one party has so much sway that their primary is the “real” election, it creates the situation where, if you’re actually serious about taking office and not just running for office for the attention, you run with that party.  Folks like Robin Ficker get made fun of for running in Montgomery County for good reason: no Republican, running as a Republican, will ever win a local race here because it skews so far towards the Democratic side.  Therefore, if you’re running as a Republican in Montgomery County, you are, by definition, doing it for the attention.  Democrats have gotten around 65% of the vote in every County Executive race since 2002 (maybe longer, but I only went as far back as 2002).  That is a landslide by just about any measure, and cements the primary as the real contest and the general election as a formality.

This line of thought is why Senator Bernie Sanders, who has traditionally run for office as an independent candidate, ran for president as a Democrat in 2016 and 2020.  The idea is that with the two-party system that exists at the national level, if you’re not in one of those two parties, you are never going to actually win the election, and therefore, if you run as a third-party candidate, you are running for office strictly for the attention.  By running as a Democrat, Sanders indicated that he was actually serious about being president, and not just doing it for attention.  Unfortunately, too many people dismissed him more or less categorically because of his traditionally running as an independent and applying some sort of purity test to him as a result of that, but it still holds that he was quite serious about the presidency by running with the party that had a history of actually winning it, rather than running as an independent.

With that said, the practical effect of this is that anyone who is not registered as a Democrat in Montgomery County is shut out of their local governance, because the general election doesn’t mean anything.  If, say, David Blair were to win the primary, it would be reasonable to start measuring for drapes immediately following the primary because he’s got it, i.e. he is definitely going to be the next executive, even though the general election hasn’t occurred yet.  They like to say that everyone gets a vote, but really, if you’re not registered as a Democrat, you don’t count, and it’s a self-inflicted wound, because we all choose our own party affiliation when you register to vote.

There are two solutions to this, short-term and long-term.  The short-term solution is to register as a Democrat no matter what your actual political views are.  It doesn’t mean that you agree with their stances.  It doesn’t mean that your stances even line up with whatever the party bosses are saying.  It doesn’t mean that you’re obligated to vote that way.  All that party registration with the state does is determine whose primary ballot you are given in a primary election.  So regardless of whether you’re a diehard conservative, a bleeding-heart liberal, have more libertarian leanings, or would still write in Lyndon LaRouche on your ballot even though he died more than three years ago, if you live in Montgomery County, it behooves you to register as a Democrat in the elections system in order to be able to participate in your local governance.  If you don’t register as a Democrat, you have self-selected out of the process, and therefore, you really don’t count.  It’s like I said in my entry about this in 2020 about the man who went to the primary as a Republican:

If it tells you my feelings on this, the guy ahead of me in line when Elyse and I voted in this particular primary was registered as a Republican, and therefore got the Republican ballot.  I really wanted to go up to him, pinch his little old-man cheeks and say, “You’re registered as a Republican?  How cute!  How does it feel to have no voice in your local government?”

Local activist Jason Makstein has made a pretty good education campaign about the whole idea of switching your registration to Democratic for primary purposes, known as Left to Vote.  He and I are in agreement: the Democratic primary is the real election, and unless you are a registered Democrat, you have de facto self-selected out of any participation in your local government, because you aren’t voting for anyone who is ever going to take office.  After all, no one is born being part of a given political party.  It’s not an unchanging fact handed down from above that someone is a Republican, a Democrat, Green, Libertarian, or whatever.  They chose to view themselves that way.  And how you view yourselves, and the moves that you make when voting don’t have to coincide.  Thus the need to register with the Democratic Party for voting purposes, even if you really consider yourself something other than a Democrat.

In the longer term, the solution is open primaries.  It’s long past time to pull Maryland out of the realm of closed primaries and implement an open primary system, or, even better, switch to a nonpartisan approach for local elections.  After all, with the Democratic Party’s unquestioned dominance over local elections, i.e. where people who aren’t registered as Democrats don’t count, it’s one-party rule, which makes party affiliation moot, because everyone’s the same party.  Might as well drop parties entirely as far as I’m concerned.  I am still convinced that a nonpartisan blanket primary, also known as a “jungle primary”, is the way to go.  In that situation, everyone gets the same ballot regardless of what party they consider themselves to be.  Democratic, Republican, Green, Libertarian, LaRouche Movement, whatever – everyone gets the same ballot, i.e. I don’t care what party you are.  Just vote.  Then at the end of it, the two candidates with the most votes advance to the general election, and one of them is definitely going to win a majority of the votes there, and therefore take office.

So there you have it, I suppose.  In the end, make sure that you have a voice in Montgomery County, and register as a Democrat before the deadline for the primary.  This year, the primary registration deadline is June 7, 2022.