The Well FED Society

This is the weblog for the University of Baltimore Federalist Society. Come back regularly for updates about our meetings and events, and you might even be treated to some original thought.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A Maryland Voting Issue (not involving Ralph Nader or touch-screens)

Although the Federalist Society is non-partisan, issues and public policies that arise in the political and electoral process are of significant interest to us. For that reason, I was intrigued when I heard about this story entitled,Out-Of-Town Voter Ruling Expected Soon. (See also Are Ocean City's Out-Of-Town Voters In?.)

This might not be a big issue, but it's interesting for a couple of reasons. How a state defines "residence" is an important issue. The potential for vote fraud is very high if non-full-time-resident property owners or part-time residents of a municipality are given the right to vote.

The State's current stance, roughly that if you are a resident of the state with multiple possible residences, then you can choose which ONE you want to be your residence of record for voting purposes without regard to where you spend most of your time seems reasonable to me. The important thing is that the individuals who want to vote in Ocean City need to change their driver's licenses (and a couple of other official records) to reflect that choice, and that registering to vote in OC while maintaining an official primary residence elsewhere in the state could result in jail-time.

What I find interesting is the motivation for people to want to register to vote in a location where they do not live most of the time (i.e. Ocean City).

I see two potential motivations
The prospective voters might want to try to have a say in the governance in the location where they have a significant capital investment.
The prospective voters might want to artificially alter the political landscape of the state.
At first, my mind jumped to the second possibility. One thing that is true about Maryland politics is that the parts of the state with lots of money are, well, exceptionally liberal. By that same token, the Eastern Shore of Maryland, (very rural) is predictably right-of-center when the election returns come in. Perhaps the Democrats in the state are frightened by recent advances by the state's Republicans, and they want to spread some votes from where they have a surplus to areas where they are in a local minority.


However, in my years on this planet, I've learned that people are naturally selfish. When two potential motivations exist, one based in desire for personal gain by the actor, and the other is part of a broader strategy, bet on selfishness. It's possible that there's some sort of plot to change the electoral flavor of the Eastern Shore, but I after consideration, I suspect that we've got a group of property owners who, since they don't live in the location full-time, but because of the economics of Ocean City now have a significant portion of their personal wealth located away from where they live. These people probably have a legitimate concern that their property interests may not be considered in the governance of the city.

It's reasonable. Of course, the locals will have a legitimate argument that it's not appropriate for their voices in local politics to be drowned-out by people who don't have to live with the results every day.

So, my UBFS friends, what do you think? As a policy issue, which side do you think has the best argument?

OK, OK, I give in... Here's a link to a story about Ralph, and here's one to a story about touch-screens.


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