OPINION: Democracy is Worth the Price
One of the fundamental principles of democracy is that voters have the right to choose who governs them. Yet as we wrap up the review of the County Charter done every ten years, the County Council is poised on Monday to retain for themselves the right to choose a new County Executive or County Council member should a vacancy occur any time after the first year of a four-year term.
The Council is claiming this power even though residents of Anne Arundel County overwhelmingly want the right to choose in a special election who is going to represent them. 700 county residents took a poll this week by the Anne Arundel County Committee on Political Education which was promoted via online and print newspaper articles, Facebook posts, and email. When asked how they would like a new County Executive to be selected should a vacancy occur, a startlingly-high 85% said they want the right to choose the replacement in a special election. Only 6% said they approved of the Council’s plans to appoint the replacement themselves. The remaining 9% want the Central Committee of the appropriate party to choose the replacement.
Additionally, 72% of poll respondents feel strongly that they should have the right to elect a replacement Council member via a special election, and only 9% want the remaining members of the County Council to do so. This result is not surprising when one remembers the agony of watching the council deadlock this spring over who should represent Council District 1. The 108 votes it took for the Council to select a replacement made the shortcomings of the current system starkly clear. It is unrealistic to expect members of one political party to select a person who is a powerful proponent for the opposing party’s views. So instead of selecting the strongest leaders who are beholden only to the voters, our current system leads to backroom deal-making and strengthens the good ‘ole boy system.
Holding both a primary and a general special election at the polls is estimated to cost about $1.2 million countywide and $150,000 to $200,000 for a Council district election. One option that could be considered to reduce the cost is to hold special elections by mail-in ballot. Montgomery County received legislative approval this spring to do this, and it would save almost half the cost of a Special Election in Anne Arundel County if we did the same. Either way, an election that gives voters the right to choose who represents them is well worth the cost.
The special election process would take about five months from start to finish. Since it probably doesn’t make sense to have an election if the new County Executive or Council member would have less than a year to serve in office, there should be a special election if either position becomes vacant in the first 30 months (2.5 years) of a term.
The County Council will be making a final decision on Monday about which charter amendments voters will be able to approve on November’s ballot. Unfortunately, despite being made aware of their constituents’ overwhelming preference for special elections, the Council seems to be holding firm to their plan to appoint a replacement County Executive or Council member themselves most of the time.
If you disagree, please let your Councilman know. We need to put the power to select our leaders back in the hands of the people where it belongs. Good government is worth the price!
Joanna Conti was the Democratic candidate for Anne Arundel County Executive in 2010.