In my Congressional district, democracy is decaying. Like the vast majority of districts, my district is dominated by one party, with both noncompetitive primaries and general elections. The district itself resembles a sailboat. It consists of a “hull” in Central Maryland and a “sail” that covers the I83 corridor, connected with a gerrymandered “mast” that is about 15 miles long, but is just 2 to 3 miles wide.
My representative, Elijah Cummings, has held power since before I turned two years old. He won by a 55% victory margin in the last general election, and took over 90% of the vote in the 2014 primaries. Considering my district consists of large swaths of urban voters, a chunk of the Baltimore suburbs, and a sprinkling of rural precincts to break up the few Maryland Republicans, it comes as no surprise that Cummings keeps winning.
But a liberal Democrat is not the reason why I think democracy is dying in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District. It is dying because the candidates don’t engage the voters or each other. I have written previously about why politicians need to earn our votes. But the election in my district, and the hundreds of others whose races are “safe” for the incumbent party, are an affront to Democracy.
An election for one of the four hundred thirty-five Representatives in the most powerful legislature in the entire world should not be taken for granted, and it is not enough to just show-up and vote. Is it truly a good democracy if we don’t take the time to evaluate our options and decide what issues matter to us? Have we made an effort to see what the candidates have to say? Have the candidates made an effort to tell us what they want to do?
In my district, there is no competitive election. Elijah Cummings has no incentive to campaign or talk about the issues because he has no political reason to do so. First, a large chunk of the district is Democratic. Because of this secured majority, it would take a high turnout, suburban swing to the right to give him serious trouble. Second, and most troubling, the Republican candidate is a ghost. His name is Corrogan Vaughn, and I have yet to hear anything from him. He seems to be a perennial candidate, completely underfunded, and largely unrecognized. His website, which gives only limited information, took far too much effort to find. His policy stances are often unrealistic and immaturely formed. My third-party option, a libertarian, is just as invisible and seems only to care about drug policy.
I just wanted to vote in an election where candidates talked about the issues and their stances and priorities. My preferred model of candidate probably would not have won, but that would still be better than the lackluster choices in front of me.
My only option left is write-in candidacy; I’ll be casting a vote for my dad because I know he’d be committed to representing our community and work hard on Capitol Hill. But this vote is more a reflection of the failure of our own democratic process, a process which does a disservice to the residents of Maryland’s 7th Congressional District and all other districts facing a similar problem.
Parties need to field viable candidates to at least force a discussion of the issues. Candidates need to discuss the issues and engage the citizenry. Competitive elections are essential to the democratic process. Incumbents and parties will not bother to seriously campaign if there is no competition or demand from citizens. As voters, we have to demand strong candidates and competitive elections. How else will our politicians know what we want and know what we care about? Let’s stop taking democracy for granted, and take our elections seriously.