Dixon’s les­son

Our view: By no means should vot­ers write in the for­mer mayor’s name on the Novem­ber bal­lot, but her ef­fort does point to a need for re­form in city elec­tions

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONDE -

We en­dorsed state Sen. Cather­ine Pugh for mayor over for­mer mayor Sheila Dixon in April’s Demo­cratic pri­mary, and events since then have only made us more con­fi­dent in our choice. We rec­og­nize Ms. Dixon’s ex­pe­ri­ence and a num­ber of ac­com­plish­ments of her ad­min­is­tra­tion, but we also re­main dis­ap­pointed in her in­abil­ity to ar­tic­u­late true re­morse for the eth­i­cal lapses that forced her from of­fice, and we con­tinue to believe Bal­ti­more needs a uni­fy­ing fig­ure, not one who po­lar­izes the city in the way Ms. Dixon does.

Ms. Pugh, on the other hand, en­joys wide­spread sup­port across racial, eco­nomic and neigh­bor­hood lines — she was the first or sec­ond choice of ev­ery precinct in the city in the pri­mary, a remarkable feat given the large num­ber of at­trac­tive can­di­dates in that race. She han­dled the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing im­prop­erly counted bal­lots gra­ciously, she has worked ef­fec­tively with out­go­ing Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake to en­sure a smooth tran­si­tion, and she has re­cruited top-flight tal­ent to join her ad­min­is­tra­tion. Her en­dorse­ment of putting civil­ians on po­lice trial boards, de­spite the ob­jec­tions of the Fraternal Or­der of Po­lice, is a pow­er­ful in­di­ca­tion that she will be will­ing to do the hard work nec­es­sary to en­act re­forms re­lated to the Depart­ment of Jus­tice’s re­port on the city’s Po­lice Depart­ment. When it comes to the ques­tion of whether to vote for Ms. Pugh or sign on to the write-in cam­paign Ms. Dixon for­mally launched to­day, it’s no con­test.

That said, we do ap­pre­ci­ate Ms. Dixon’s ef­fort in that it calls at­ten­tion to a cir­cum­stance of Bal­ti­more mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions that demands re­form. The for­mer mayor is right that vot­ers were closely split be­tween her and Sen­a­tor Pugh in the pri­mary elec­tion — Ms. Pugh got 48,709 votes and Ms. Dixon got 46,301. Each got at least 30,000 more votes than their next near­est ri­val. Now, though, Ms. Pugh faces off in the gen­eral elec­tion against Repub­li­can Alan Walden, who got 3,069 votes in the GOP pri­mary — a re­sult that would have landed him in sev­enth place in the Demo­cratic pri­mary, just be­hind ac­tivist DeRay Mckes­son — and Green Party can­di­date Joshua Har­ris, whowon­his­pri­mary with 58 votes. That doesn’t make much sense.

There is a bet­ter way. Cal­i­for­nia has adopted a sys­tem of open pri­maries — that is, vot­ers can choose among all the can­di­dates, whether they are Repub­li­cans, Democrats, mem­bers of some other party or un­af­fil­i­ated — and in a unique twist, the top two fin­ish­ers, re­gard­less of po­lit­i­cal party, face off against each other in the gen­eral elec­tion. Thus, in the highly con­tested U.S. Se­nate race, for ex­am­ple, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ka­mala Har­ris, a Demo­crat who got more than 2 mil­lion votes in the pri­mary, will face fel­low Demo­crat Rep. Loretta Sanchez, who got nearly 1 mil­lion votes, rather than Repub­li­can Duf Sund­heim, who got just over 400,000 votes. We urged Bal­ti­more to fol­low that model five years ago, when Sen­a­tor Pugh came in a strong sec­ond to Mayor Rawl­ings-Blake, and the re­sults of this elec­tion again make the For­mer mayor Sheila Dixon has launched a write-in cam­paign for her old job de­spite her loss in April’s pri­mary. case for re­form.

We ex­pect that if Bal­ti­more were op­er­at­ing un­der such a sys­tem this year, a gen­eral elec­tion be­tween Ms. Pugh and Ms. Dixon would serve only to con­firm and am­plify the sen­a­tor’s vic­tory. Given the his­tory, far more of the votes for other can­di­dates would swing to Ms. Pugh than Ms. Dixon. But that’s not nec­es­sar­ily true in sev­eral City Coun­cil races, which were more hotly con­tested than Bal­ti­more has seen in years.

In dis­trict after dis­trict, vot­ers were faced with an em­bar­rass­ment of riches when it came to quality can­di­dates, so much so that the win­ner re­ceived less than 50 per­cent of the vote in eight of the 14 dis­tricts. Repub­li­cans are on the bal­lot in five of those dis­tricts, and Green Party can­di­dates in three. Yet only one — the1st Dis­trict, which cov­ers Can­ton and sur­round­ing ar­eas — is ex­pected to be at all com­pet­i­tive in the gen­eral elec­tion. Gov. Larry Ho­gan, a Repub­li­can, car­ried that dis­trict in 2014, and the Repub­li­can coun­cil nominee, Matthew McDaniel, gar­nered 879 votes in April’s pri­mary. That’s only about 40 per­cent as many votes as were re­ceived by the Demo­cratic nominee, Zeke Co­hen, yet it’s a far bet­ter show­ing than any other Repub­li­can coun­cil nominee in the city.

An open pri­mary, top-two sys­tem could ac­tu­ally help Repub­li­cans, Greens and oth­ers to break through. Un­der the cur­rent sys­tem, Democrats’ dom­i­nance in city voter reg­is­tra­tion has his­tor­i­cally made the pri­mary the only elec­tion that counts, so those who want a voice must reg­is­ter as Democrats, fur­ther ce­ment­ing the sta­tus quo. For that rea­son alone, it’s un­likely that the Demo­cratic pow­ers-that-be would ever en­dorse such a re­form. But if we­want city elec­tions to ef­fec­tively re­flect the pref­er­ences of vot­ers, there’s no ques­tion that it would be an im­prove­ment.


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