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Who speaks for the growing number of independent voters on state election board?

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Who speaks for the growing number of independent voters on state election board?

Jun 10, 2024 | 12:37 pm ET
By Jack Gavin
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Who speaks for the growing number of independent voters on state election board?
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A voter casts a ballot on Super Tuesday at City Center on March 5, 2024, in Little Rock, Arkansas. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)

I have been involved in the election process in Anne Arundel County for the last four election cycles. Functioning as a chief judge three times, as well as other duties from canvassing to picking up ballots at drop boxes, including correctional facilities.

I have been impressed with the competence of the people involved, both full-time and temporary. The process “chain of custody” for ballots is thorough. However, I am surprised by the gap in the structure of the board of elections.

My understanding is that currently, according to Maryland legislation, the governor can only appoint members from the two major political parties (Democrat and Republican) to sit on Maryland Board of Elections. This leaves a gap in representation for a substantial number of registered voters. According to this law, there is no opportunity for the governor to appoint an unaffiliated registered voter to the board.

The legislation should be amended to allow the governor to appoint unaffiliated registered voters on the board of election at both the state and county levels. Over the years the number of unaffiliated Maryland voters has increased at a disproportionate rate when compared with registered Democrats and Republicans.

Using the Maryland Board of Elections Voter Registration Statistics and Data website as a reference, when comparing March 2024 (the most recent data) and March 2012, current registered voters in 2024 are 2,208,095 Democrats, 994,529 Republicans, and 909,180 unaffiliated voters. In 2012, registered voters were 1,965,668 Democrats, 935,234 Republicans and 562,967 unaffiliated.

While there is an incremental increase in voters for both Democratic and Republicans registrants, there has been a disproportionate increase in the number of unaffiliated voters. The increase in unaffiliated voters over this period is more than 346,000, greater than the increase in Democrats and Republicans combined.

Despite their increasing numbers, legislation precludes unaffiliated voters from representation on the election boards. Common sense indicates that the exclusion (intentional or unintentional) of this voting classification presents a gap in representation of a sizable portion of Maryland voters.

The combined percentage of Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters comprise over 98% of total registered voters in Maryland in 2024. However current representation on the Board of Elections only makes up 77.8%.

There are five appointed members to the State Board of Elections. In 2012, legislation was introduced (HB 908) to “replace principal minority party member with an unaffiliated representative.”  The legislation did not proceed far. The motivation to replace a minority party member with an unaffiliated member on the Election Board sounds politically suspect and its defeat is understandable. However, the issue of fair representation has increased in importance as the number of unaffiliated voters grows.

This problem is easily fixed. I would suggest reintroducing legislation to add an unaffiliated member to these representative boards, not by replacing any existing positions, but by simply increasing the board membership by one.

The very nature of unaffiliated voters would add an unbiased perspective that would enhance the quality of the election process.

In the current political climate, unaffiliated voters will make an important contribution to the election. Providing the unaffiliated 20% of the electorate with representation on the election boards is a positive step. This change will take legislation, and Maryland legislators are not in session until after the November election.

While putting this on the 2025 legislative agenda should be done, I wonder if there is an avenue for the governor to add unaffiliated representation before the next general election? Can a non-voting unaffiliated member be appointed/assigned? This inclusion will help reassure the voting public that elections in Maryland are fully represented and unbiased.

My observations are not a criticism of the functioning of the organization but rather to point out a gap in the democratic representation of the electoral process, and suggest a workable solution.

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