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2018 Elections: How to Get Started

Students may feel that the trouble of voting often outweighs the benefits. That is evident, shown by the fact that in every midterm election, youth voter turnout gets lower: to the point where the last midterm, we saw youth turnout break record low levels, according to The US Census Bureau.

It is another midterm year, and the Governor’s seat, one U.S. Senate seat, all U.S. House of Representative seats, all Maryland House of Delegates/Senate seats plus many other municipal seats are up for grabs. Campus groups such as St. Mary’s Votes, a nonpartisan campus group that aims to help St. Mary’s students get to the polls, are gearing up to get students engaged in the political process.

“Not just at St. Mary’s [College of Maryland], but across the board, turnout is much lower during midterm elections than during presidential elections,” stated Professor Susan Grogan, head of St. Mary’s Votes. “We want to get going before the end of this spring semester because there is a state primary coming up in June.”

Maryland’s closed primaries for both major parties will be held on June 26. A primary election is when voters from each party determine who should represent their party in the general election. A closed primary system means that voters must be registered with a party ahead of the election. This year, the deadline is June 5 in order to vote in the primaries. Unaffiliated voters, voters who are not registered with either party, cannot vote in partisan primary elections, such as the governor’s race and congressional races. However, they can vote in nonpartisan primaries such as races for the Board of Education. St. Mary’s Votes will be running voter registration drives prior to the primary election.

There are three different ways to vote in the 2018 primary elections. The most conventional way to vote is in-person, at your designated polling place on Election Day, between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. You must be registered to vote by June 5 to do this.

You can find your polling place on the Maryland Board of Elections website. From the home page, all you have to do is scroll down to “find your polling place,” then enter the street address and 5-digit ZIP code of the address that you registered to vote with.

Your polling place is determined by the address on your voter registration. You are allowed to use either your campus address or your home address when you register. “Some people on our Board of Elections disapprove of it,” Grogan advised us, “but you can because federal law says you can. Federal law always trumps state law.”

Maryland residents can also participate in early voting at any early voting center within their county from June 14 until June 21, between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Early voting is allowed for most voters who did not register before the deadline but are able to bring proof that they live in their respective county; however, this means that you won’t be able to vote in partisan primaries.

If in-person voting isn’t your thing, voters who registered before the deadline may request an absentee ballot before June 19 (by mail) or June 22 (by downloading the ballot), and mail their ballot back to the board of elections before Election Day, June 26.

The general elections will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 6. The deadline to register to vote in the general elections is Oct.  16, and early voting will take place from Oct. 25 through Nov. 1. Absentee ballots for the general election must be requested by Oct. 30. “Most of our activity will take place in the fall,” Professor Grogan told us. Grogan further explained that “we want to get more students registered, and we want to get them signed up for absentee ballots.” A request form for voter registration forms and absentee ballots is also available on the SMCM student portal.

As a final piece of advice, Professor Grogan says that the most important part of this election is getting information. “Get as much information as you can on the candidates who are running. You can follow news coverage of them, or all of the candidates have their own websites that you can look up online.” Nonpartisan candidate information sites such as Vote Smart are also useful to compare candidate’s views.

There are eight Democratic challengers to Governor Larry Hogan in the governor’s race, including high-profile candidate Rushern Baker, Prince George’s County Executive, former NAACP CEO Ben Jealous and Krishanti O’Mara Vignarajah, former advisor to First Lady Michelle Obama. Gubernatorial candidate Jim Shea has chosen St. Mary’s College of Maryland alumni Brandon Scott, ’06, as his running mate. Other notable races include the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, where incumbent Sen. Ben Cardin is challenged by several other Democratic candidates including controversial whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

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