WASHINGTON – “The ballot is stronger than the bullet,” Abraham Lincoln once said. But casting a ballot is more like shooting a blank, according to 25 Maryland residents interviewed last week.
They were among 144 people interviewed from most regions of the state about their election-year concerns. Most of the 25 said they will not vote Nov. 5 because they are disillusioned with the candidates or doubtful that their votes really matter.
A handful said registering to vote was the problem, and a couple cited general dissatisfaction with the country as their reason for not voting.
Voting “is just a ruse to make [people] feel important enough to make a difference,” said Stephan Lewis, 39, who spends most of the year in Hagerstown as a technician with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.
But individual votes do not really count, said he and seven others stopped in malls, parks, parking lots and street corners.
“People say all the time that one vote makes a difference. I’m not real sure about that,” said Vickie Crandell, 39, of Deale, a manager at Fast Eddie’s pizza. “I say, `Why bother?’ ”
Lewis said the politicians who get elected, as well as those who do not, are “silvery tongued devils who talk circles around the common man.” He said he is not registered, has never voted and will not until the system is “cleaned up.”
His distrust of politicians was echoed by seven others as a rationale for not voting.
“It makes no difference which thief you vote for,” said William Folks, a supermarket supervisor from Pasadena. “One crook is the same as another.”
Folks, 52, said he has never registered. “I don’t see any point in that,” he said.
Glenn Payne sees a point in registering. “If you don’t vote, you’re doing yourself a disservice,” the 27-year-old unemployed Baltimore man said. In fact, low voter turnout is the country’s biggest problem, he said.
But Payne said he will not be voting because he has a medical appointment on election day.
Just under 2 million Maryland residents voted in the 1992 presidential elections. More than 460,000 registered voters, about 19 percent of the state’s total number of registrants, failed to cast a ballot that year, according to a state elections board official.
Five people interviewed last week said registering to vote was too onerous, or they missed the registration deadline or had other obligations that prevented them from voting.
“I was registered just long enough to vote for [President] Reagan,” said Bill Stephenson, 50, a produce market owner from Sharpstown. But he did not bother with the registration process this year, he said.
“I think a driver’s license should be all that’s necessary,” he said. “I don’t have time when I work seven days a week for 10, 12, 16 hours a day.”
For Stephenson’s wife, Kathy, the problem was not the registration procedure, but rather the country’s irreversible decline.
“Every election comes down to the same garbage,” she said. “Family is supposed to be No. 1 and all that, but I don’t think anyone can fix the country. I think it’s gone too far.”
She called President Clinton the country’s biggest problem, but said she will not vote and try to get him out of office.
Four interviewees said they supported Clinton but still would not vote.
“I don’t need to fight to keep him as president. Others can do that for me,” said Adele Robie, 71, a retired elementary school teacher from Baltimore. “One vote among millions won’t make a difference.”
So what is the solution for these skeptics and malcontents, who think their votes do not matter, their candidates are not trustworthy, their country is not salvageable, or some combination of the three?
For Rick Lewis, 37, the answer lies in a banner he had hanging in Victorian Spirits II, the Frederick beer store where he works. It reads “Elizabeth Taylor for President.”
She’s got nothing to hide, he says. It’s all been in the papers already. Contributing to this report were: Loren Goloski, Sheryl Kennedy, Gabriel Margasak, Jennifer McMenamin, Paul T. Rosynsky, Kristina M. Schurr and Kristi E. Swartz. -30-