By Adam Pagnucco.
In addition to placing at least one competing proposal on the ballot, the county council is about to adopt a tactic to defeat the proposed charter amendment for 9 districts that is sure to infuriate its supporters. The worst thing (or best thing, depending on your point of view) is that this tactic has a proven record of success.
Specifically, it relates to the exact language on 9 districts that will be placed on the ballot.
Maryland Election Law § 7-103 lays out the role of local governments in preparing ballot language. This morning, the county council will be considering this language for the ballot on the 9 districts amendment (providing that it has 10,000 valid signatures and actually qualifies).
Charter amendment by petition
County Council – Alter Council Composition to 9 Districts
Amend Sections 102 and 103 of the County Charter to:
— divide the County into 9, rather than the current 5, Council districts;
— elect all Councilmembers by district, rather than the current 5 by district and 4 at large; and
— reduce from 5 to 1 the number of Councilmembers each voter can vote for
Consider this. Every voter who looks at the ballot will be told that this charter amendment would reduce the number of council seats he or she may vote for from 5 to 1.
This is the exact same language that appeared on the ballot when a 9 district amendment was submitted to voters in 2004. That amendment was defeated on a 61-39% vote. Like 2020, 2004 was a presidential election year in which many – probably most – voters were interested in national politics and knew relatively little about the county.
I was one of those voters. I moved to the county in 2003 and 2004 was my first election here. At that point, I knew two things about MoCo. 1. It had a county executive named Doug Duncan who had appeared on TV during the hunt for the D.C. sniper. 2. There was a fight being waged over a big highway called the Intercounty Connector. (I checked to make sure its alignment was nowhere near my new house.) That was about it. So here I was in the voting booth trying to figure out what this 9 district question was. And I saw that it would reduce the number of council members I could vote for from 5 to 1. I thought that was a terrible idea. I like voting for elected officials so I voted NO. So did 61% of the electorate.
Supporters of 9 districts are going to cry foul but they have to acknowledge two things. 1. The language is indisputably accurate. 2. It has appeared on the ballot before so the council is following precedent.
Poison pills are hard to swallow. This pill could very well poison the electoral prospects of 9 districts.