If you want to influence the government of Rockville, you need to recognize who makes the decisions. Usually it’s the Mayor and Council, and you need to persuade just three of the five. In an election, it’s voters. Although there are 60,000 residents in Rockville, only about half are registered to vote. As much as we talk about “democracy” and “the power of the people,” ultimately, people who can’t vote, can’t decide.
So if you want to make a difference in your community, state, or nation, Rule #1 is register to vote. Two centuries ago, only white men who owned real estate had the right to vote. Since then, the rules have changed thanks to the battles fought by our predecessors. Today, the only citizens who are ineligible to vote in Maryland are imprisoned felons, the mentally disabled, and those under 18.
Now here’s the rub: people who don’t vote, don’t decide. Of the 30,000 registered voters in Rockville, less than 20 percent vote in city elections. In 2007, that was 5,737 people. Take a look at the chart and you’ll see the difference in size between all registered voters (in blue) and those who voted in city elections (in red). Does your vote matter? Absolutely! On a daily basis, local laws, fees, taxes, and regulations affect your life, family, and home more than national ones. Only about 100 votes separated Carl Henn from Phyllis Marcuccio, enough to put her on City Council and force him to wait two more years. Think of it: the City Council of Rockville was determined by 100 people or 0.2 percent of the people living in the city. You want more control over those things that affect your life, family, and home? Then follow Rule #2: become informed and vote whenever you get the opportunity.
As a candidate running for election, I don’t have sufficient time or money to persuade every resident of Rockville to support me. First of all, only half of them are registered voters. But of those registered voters, I’m only going to pursue the 20 percent who vote in city elections. I have to be pragmatic–they’re the ones who make a difference. From the records available from the Board of Elections, I know exactly who voted in the last elections (but of course, not how they voted) so I’ll be directing my attention on them.
I also know their age, party affiliation, and neighborhood, so I’ll be most aware of their issues and concerns. Take a look at the chart again and scan the ages at the bottom. Although registered voters are primarily under age 60, those who vote are typically over age 50. What’s that mean for my campaign strategy? I’ll be walking to people’s homes and using mail and I won’t rely on Twitter or Facebook to get votes. And although I have to be concerned about everybody in Rockville, I’m going to listen more carefully to those who vote in city elections. They’re the ones who decide the future of Rockville on November 3.