How Electoral Rules Shape County Council Partisanship

maryland-county-map

Maryland counties use a number of different methods to elect their county legislatures (see below for a description of how each county conducts its elections). The rules of the electoral game influence the outcome, as at-large elections facilitate one-party sweeps.

Twelve counties elect their councils entirely at-large throughout the county. The number will decline to eleven when Frederick elects its first charter government this year. Cecil and Garrett have district residency requirements for candidates but still elect them at-large. Cecil also staggers its elections.

Nine of the twelve counties with solely at-large elections have legislatures with members from only one party. In the remaining three, there is only one minority (Democratic) representative. (Of course, Kent has only three commissioners so the minority has to consist of only one commissioner.)

Eight counties elect their councils entirely from single-member districts. Districts can help with compliance with the Voting Rights Act by preventing the submergence of minorities among larger minority populations. Worcester County, for example, has a black district that resulted from voting rights litigation.

Districts also facilitate minority party representation. Only two of the eight counties elected entirely by district have single-party governments. Districts enable minority party representation so long as the minority comprises a majority within one of the districts. Minorities can still fail to win representation if their support is evenly distributed or just too weak, as in Carroll and Prince George’s Counties.

Three counties and Baltimore City elect their legislatures via a mixture of single-member districts and at-large. Baltimore City and Harford elect all councilmembers from districts except the city/county council president. Frederick will adopt Wicomico’s system of five from districts and two at-large when it elects its first charter government this year.

Uniquely, Montgomery elects four at-large in addition to five from districts. In this populous county, at-large councilmembers represent significantly more people than Members of Congress. And even the district councilmembers have roughly 200,000 constituents.

Among counties with mixed systems, heavily Democratic Baltimore City and Montgomery County have entirely Democratic councils. Harford and Wicomico have Republican majority counties with Democratic minorities.

Next Up: Ideas for creating more competition in Montgomery.

ALL ELECTED AT-LARGE

Allegany: three commissioners.

Calvert: five commissioners.

Caroline: three commissioners.

Cecil: five councilmembers. There are five districts and residency requirements but county voters elect all five. Elections are staggered so that the election of two coincides with the presidential election and three with the gubernatorial election.

Charles: five commissioners.

Frederick: five commissioners (through 2010).

Garrett: three commissioners. There are three districts and residency requirements but county voters elect all at-large.

Kent: three commissioners.

Queen Anne’s: five commissioners.

St. Mary’s: five commissioners.

Talbot: five councilmembers.

Washington: five commissioners.

ALL ELECTED FROM DISTRICTS

Anne Arundel: seven councilmembers.

Baltimore County: seven councilmembers.

Carroll: five commissioners.

Dorchester: five councilmembers.

Howard: five councilmembers.

Prince George’s: nine councilmembers.

Somerset: five commissioners.

Worcester: seven commissioners.

MIXED

Baltimore City elects 14 councilmembers from districts and the city council president at-large.

Starting in 2014, Frederick will elect five councilmembers from districts and two at-large.

Harford elects six councilmembers from districts and the council president-large.

Montgomery elects five councilmembers from districts and four at-large.

Wicomico elects five councilmembers from districts and two at-large.

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Lierman Has Inside Track in D46

D46

Compared to other Baltimore City districts, redistricting left District 46 unscathed and it still encompasses the neighborhoods surrounding the harbor. Like all of Baltimore City, District 46 is Democratic turf. No Republican has bothered to file for the legislature, so the Democratic primary is the election.

Sen. Bill Ferguson demolished incumbent Sen. George Della with 59% of the vote in the 2010 Democratic primary. An impressive accomplishment, as Della had served since 1990 and is the son of a previous Senate President from the district with the same name. Coasting to his second term with only nominal opposition and $121K in his campaign account, Ferguson is just 30 years old. For these reasons alone, he has to be one to watch.

The two incumbent delegates seeking reelection, Del. Luke Clippinger ($52K) and Del. Peter Hammen ($121K), should also be safe. Hammen is the senior member of the delegation, having served since 1994. He is also the most powerful, as he holds the Chair of the Health and Government Operations Committee. Clippinger is an assistant state’s attorney in Anne Arundel and unsurprisingly serves on the Judiciary Committee. He was a real leader in the fight for marriage equality.

Attorney Brooke Lierman, who graduated from Walt Whitman HS in Montgomery County, is the favorite for the open seat for several reasons. First, she is the daughter of former Democratic Party Chair Terry Lierman (and sister of Kyle Lierman, who ran in D16 in 2010). Relatedly, she has $104K in her campaign account and the ability to raise more. My guess is also relatedly, Ferguson, Clippinger, and Hammen have formed a slate with her. Finally, it doesn’t hurt that she is reported to be very nice.

Lierman is not a total lock for the seat. Bill Romani ran for delegate in 2010 and came in a respectable fourth. Romani has good name recognition and will probably raise enough money to run a respectable campaign–he now has $33K in the bank. But all that respect probably won’t be enough to overcome Lierman’s money and the slate, though expect him to do his best to surprise.

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Monopoly County Politics

terpopolyFear this Turtle?

As the last post detailed, a majority of Maryland counties have legislatures with representatives from only one party. Democrats in my home county of Montgomery enjoy their hyperdominant status, and celebrated heartily the electoral demise of the County’s last Republican officials in the 1990s.

One-party monopolies create a number of problems. In this case, I am not referring to unified party control of the legislature and executive, as in the case of the Maryland State Government with Democrats holding both houses of the General Assembly as well as the Governor’s Mansion. Instead, in this context, single-party control references when one party controls government so thoroughly that there is no meaningful opposition.

Political scientists have long observed that problems can arise for democratic governance when one party controls politics so thoroughly that there is no real electoral competition in the general election. (V. O. Key was a pioneer in this area and his classic work on Southern Politics inspired many of my thoughts here.)

First, the party primaries of one party become the key election in place of the general election. Only a small fraction of voters choose the party’s nominee (read: elect the official). In Maryland, turnout is already lower in gubernatorial than presidental election years and turnout is far lower in primaries than in general elections. Moreover, despite one-party dominance, many still remain registered as independents or with another party, further shrinking the share participating in the one meaningful contest.

Think the case is overstated? In Montgomery County, 83,827 voted in the 2010 Democratic primary–just 14.7% of the County’s 569,234 eligible voters. Prince George’s did a little better because the County has fewer non-Democrats with 96,652 casting ballots in the Democratic primary out of 498,718 eligible voters–19.4%.

This same effect also occurs in Republican counties, though the impact is somewhat less drastic. In Carroll County, 19,845 voted in the 2010 Republican primary, 22.8% of all eligible voters. In Garrett County, 5,398 cast ballots in the GOP primary, forming 33.2% of the 16,256 eligible.

Second, it leads to disorganized politics and makes it difficult to hold government accountable. For the all the derision directed at parties and partisanship, political parties serve extremely valuable purposes. The collage of views that animate each party organize politics for voters. In elections, the party label is a recognizable brand, which provides a quick cue to voters looking to cast a ballot. We rely on similar shortcuts in many aspects of life.

Places without a viable opposition party lack these cues and organization because all the action takes place in the primary. Parsing differences between candidates is difficult without party labels. Voters have to work much harder.

The absence of party divisions also makes it more difficult to vote based on the basis of overall satisfaction with the government. When one party is so strongly dominant, it is more difficult to throw out the “ins” and replace them with the “outs” because  there is no viable opposition and the “ins” and the “outs” belong to one party.

Additionally, in single-party places, one party tends to accommodate a  larger range of views as people gravitate to the party of power. Occasionally, clear factions will appear within parties, as with Doug Duncan’s 2002 “End Gridlock” slate. But such linkages tend to be ephemeral and the labels don’t appear on the ballot. It can also make it easier for individual politicians to shift positions over time since there are a panoply of views within one party.

All of this helps explain why the Montgomery County Council is perpetually so factionalized with shifting alliances that are often based on personality conflicts and not issues. There are genuine issue differences in Montgomery but there is no party alignment to help organize them and make it easier for voters to hold officials accountable for their decisions.

The next post on county politics will begin to explore the causes of one-party counties and ideas about what we can do about it to produce better governance.

 

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Madaleno Special Orders Hoskins

Commissioner Hoskins_REVAnne Hoskins

Montgomery Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-18) has special ordered the controversial nomination of Anne Hoskins to the Public Services Commission. In English, this means that the nomination will be discussed separately on the Senate floor.

The purpose appears to be to highlight the problematic approval of trackers by the PSC, which allow utilities to receive rate increases before they make investments rather than the more traditional practice of requesting them afterward.

Concern regarding Hoskins centers on how strongly she will lean toward the utilities– she favors trackers–rather than her past work in industry. After all, industry experience may give her knowledge that strengthens her ability to serve as a good commissioner. And experience in industry is no guarantee of views–the PSC Commissioner who wrote the dissenting opinion opposing trackers came from industry.

I expect that the nomination will pass easily but the special order will usefully highlight the use of trackers and the continuing concern of many Marylanders regarding power reliability and PSC supervision of power utilities.

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Partisan Breakdown of County Governments

CountyCouncils

Pre-2014 Election County Executives and Councils

Maryland has fewer subdivisions than almost any other state with just 23 counties and one independent city. Except Baltimore City, all elect their legislatures–Councils or Commission–at the same time as the gubernatorial election. Starting in 2016, Baltimore’s City will be in sync with the presidential election cycle.

Besides legislatures, eight counties with home rule charters directly elect a county executive, functionally equivalent to that of mayor–the title given to Baltimore City’s executive. Frederick County’s voters approved its charter in 2012 and will elect its first county executive this year.

The above table shows the pre-2014 election partisan breakdown of county executives and legislatures for all counties and Baltimore City, highlighting one party counties based on the party of the legislature with red indicating Republican and blue Democratic counties .

Nine have only Republican legislatures (and executives): Allegany, Calvert, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Frederick, Garrett, Queen Anne’s, and Washington. Four are solidly Democratic: Baltimore City, Charles, Montgomery, and Prince George’s.

Most Republican counties are small, though Calvert, Carroll, Frederick, and Queen Anne’s are fast-growing exurbs. Calvert, Carroll and Queen Anne’s are all solidly Republican, though more overwhelmingly in Carroll than Calvert or Queen Anne’s. Frederick leans Republican but has been moving towards the Democrats. Whether the trend will continue strongly enough to push the County away from the GOP remains to be seen.

Three counties and Baltimore City sit in the Democratic camp. All are overwhelmingly Democratic with Republicans having next to no chance.  In Prince George’s, only one Republican has so far filed for a Council seat. Democrats would still hold a bare majority on the Montgomery Council even if every Republican candidate won. Republicans have filed for only two seats on the Charles Commission.

The remaining eleven counties have split councils or commissions, though many lean heavily to either the Democrats or the Republicans. Harford, St. Mary’s, Talbot, Wicomico, and Worcester list towards the Republicans, while Baltimore County and Howard favor the Democrats. Anne Arundel leans GOP but seems increasingly marginal for a place expected once to be a Republican bastion.

Due to the plentiful rural Republican counties, there are 75 Republican legislators compared to 65 Democrats in very blue Maryland. Must make politics for officer elections at the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO) interesting.

 

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How Polarized is the General Assembly?

The Monkey Cage has a great post that compares legislative polarization all 50 states. The first graph (credit to Boris Shor) shows polarization averaged across both chambers from 1996 through 2013. As you can see, Maryland is the fourteenth most polarized state in the country, though not that terribly far above American average.

statepolar

Polarization is greatest in California where Democrats are very liberal and Republicans are very conservative, as shown in Shor’s second graph. In this graph, the vertical axis measures conservatism and the horizontal axis shows the year. The graph not only makes it possible to compare the parties within states but across states.

polar by chamber

The change in polarization within each chamber over time is more easily assessed with yet another graph produced by Boris Shor and Nolan McCarty that charts polarization over time for both chambers in 49 states and Nebraska’s unique unicameral legislature.

polarization_chamber_years2

In Maryland, polarization in the House has been relatively flat over the last two decades. Polarization has increased in the Maryland Senate. A bump up around the time of the 1998 elections increased Senate levels to those of the House. The Senate is now slightly more polarized than the House after another smaller increase in Senate polarization after the 2002 elections.

In Congress, heightened polarization has been driven much more by Republicans than Democrats, though Democrats are more liberal than in the past. The changes in General Assembly polarization appear driven more or less equally by both parties. Over the 18 years in the study, Democratic liberalism and Republican conservatism each increased by roughly 0.25 on the scale. (A very close look indicates that Republican conservatism probably increased slightly more than Democratic liberalism.)

These trends are not terribly shocking to followers of Maryland politics. More moderate Republicans like former Del. Connie Morella and Sens. Jean Roesser and Howard Denis no longer sit in the General Assembly, as many moderate Republicans have become Democrats and Montgomery County Democrats are no longer willing to vote for even moderate Republicans in sufficient numbers. Republicans have also seen several mainstream conservative senators defeated by more conservative delegates in primaries.

Conservative Democratic numbers have dwindled. Places that elected conservative Democrats now usually choose Republicans. Though a few, like Del. David Randolph, hang on in territory that is tough for Democrats, the days of the Eastern Shore electing very conservative Democrats like Sen. Frederick Malkus are over.

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UPDATE: Edith Patterson Files for Delegate

EdithPattersonMHEC Commissioner Dr. Edith Patterson

UPDATE: As always, readers provide the scoop and are quick to catch errors–very helpful since situations can quickly change. Since I wrote this piece, Edith Patterson has filed for delegate, thus setting up for a more exciting contest between her and Kelly for the third delegate seat in District 28 (Charles).

While Kelly has little money, Patterson has filed an affidavit attesting to less than $1K. On the other hand, that could change–Patterson was honored by the State NAACP and has a network. Nevertheless, though Patterson is unquestionably a known name, Kelly won the last round.

If Middleton slates with Kelly, as his donation suggests he might (see previous post), that would give her a concrete advantage. It would also require African-American Del. C.T. Wilson to join the slate, as it is politically unthinkable for Middleton to form an all-white slate in today’s Charles County. It gives Wilson some interesting political power. I don’t know Wilson’s relationship with either Middleton or Patterson. However, one could reasonably think that Wilson sees himself as the first African-American senator from Charles in the future.

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Somnolent Elections in Changing Charles

charles

Charles County, District 28

District 28 is almost coterminous with Charles County. Charles keeps growing so the district keeps shrinking, and 12% of Charles’ population is now in District 27A.

Charles is now solid Democratic turf. It didn’t use to be that way. While President Obama won 65% in Charles in 2012, he won 62% in 2008. Kerry also received 62% in 2004 but Gore narrowly edged out George W. Bush with 49% in 2000. In 1996, Bill Clinton won 44%.

What changed? The population of Charles County has grown dramatically, rising from 72,751 in 1990 to 120,524 in 2000 to 146,551 in 2010. Much of the growth has been due to an influx of African-American Democrats from Prince George’s.

In 2012, the U.S. Census estimated that blacks composed 42.4% of Charles’ population up from 26.6% in 2000 and 18.4% in 1990. Whites formed just 50.0% of the population in 2012. Blacks remain a heavily Democratic constituency and now dominate all elections in Charles County.

Powerful Sen. Mac Middleton has managed to surf the changing dynamics well. He chairs the Senate Finance Committee and is unopposed for reelection. Prior to his election to the Senate in 1994, Sen. Middleton served two terms before that on the Charles County Commission. He has $160K in his campaign account.

Two incumbent delegates are seeking reelection. Del. Sally Jameson is seeking her fourth term while Del. C.T. Wilson is running for his second. Jameson has $44K in her campaign kitty compared to $22K for Wilson.

Del. Peter Murphy has decided to run for President of the Charles County Commission, so there is one open delegate seat. And, as it happens, Charles County Commission President Candice Quinn Kelly is running for delegate.

After having been nominated to fill a vacancy, Kelly ran as a Republican for the District 2 seat (elected at-large but with a residency requirement) on the County Commission in 2006, losing with 44% of the vote. She had more success in 2012 running as a Democrat for Commission President. In the primary. Kelly defeated Edith Patterson, the first African-American elected to the Commission. Gov. O’Malley appointed Patterson to a four-year term to the Maryland Higher Education Commission after her loss.

Though Kelly has just $3K in her campaign account, she can count Mac Middleton among her donors, as can Jameson and Wilson. Middleton’s support combined with her own success in winning at-large in Charles, which encompasses the whole district, should make her the odds on favorite to win the vacancy. I don’t know if Middleton plans to form a slate with Kelly as well as Jameson and Wilson but that would seal the deal.

The fourth candidate is a real estate agent, John Coller, who has yet to file a campaign finance report. He lives in Port Tobacco and works in Waldorf. Coller is new to Charles politics, so presumably is little known and has no experience running a successful campaign.

Open seat but not an exciting primary and the general election is now a lock for Democrats in Charles.

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Simmons Backs the Wrong Dog

bewareofdog

In 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that pit bulls are an inherently dangerous breed. In order to avoid massive emails on this topic, I will not wade into that question. (Write Judge Judy instead; she thinks they’re dangerous.)

The Court’s decision made it so that it is not necessary to show negligence by a pit bull’s owner in order to collect damages for a pit bull dog bite. Pit bull owners worry that the Court’s decision will lead landlords to bar pit bulls and that animal shelters will euthanize them —both of which are possible. In short, they demand an end to pit bull discrimination.

The issue has become a serious problem. The General Assembly wants to eliminate the single breed focus but still protect the public from dog bites. However, it has been unable to resolve this problem due to Del. Luiz Simmons’ recalcitrance.

Simmons wants a one bite rule. Essentially, unless an owner had knowledge that a dog bit people through previous experience, the owner could not be held liable for a dog’s first bite. The one bite rule would even protect owners who negligently fail to obey leash laws.

As a result of Simmons’ demands, the bill died in the last session of the General Assembly, as reported by the Baltimore Sun:

At issue is an amendment adopted by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which [Sen. Brian] Frosh chairs, on Thursday night. Simmons said the amendment “killed” the bill. Frosh said Simmons is overreacting.

“He told me he’s going to kill the Senate bill as a result,” Frosh said. “I think he’s making a mistake. I think we’re very close to passing a good piece of legislation.” . . .

Simmons charged Friday that an amendment added to the bill . . .  — proposed by Sen. Robert A. Zirkin and adopted 7-4 — would expose hundreds of thousands of owners of other breeds of dog to substantially the same strict liability standard as the court applied to pit bulls. . . .

Frosh said he fought hard to defeat the amendment — an account confirmed by several members. While Frosh said he doesn’t like the amendment, which requires the owner to provide “clear and convincing” proof there was no reason to suspect a dog would bite, he said it’s a long way from strict liability — an almost automatic legal presumption that the owner is responsible.

Simmons preferred to kill the bill rather than let it go to a conference committee to work out the differences, stating that Sen. Brian Frosh “reneged” and is “incompetent” if he couldn’t defeat the amendment.

Frosh, now a candidate for Maryland Attorney General, and Simmons have reconciled and the bill has been reintroduced this year without the amendment that Simmons intensely dislikes. However, Sen. Zirkin has introduced a bill with the stricter language. Zirkin feels strongly but on the other side.

Zirkin’s explained his views in the Washington Post:

Zirkin told his colleagues that everyone agrees the law shouldn’t discriminate against pit bulls. He said the only remaining question is whether owners should be held liable when their dogs have no prior history of violence. And Zirkin considers it unjust to make a victim pay for medical bills if that person didn’t provoke the attack.

Tony Solesky, the father of the boy who was mauled, and their attorney, Kevin Dunne, also spoke against Frosh’s bill.

“It’s not a compromise — it is a surrender,” Dunne said. “The victims will lose.”

In other states with “strict liability” laws, insurance companies often cover the dog owners’ expenses.

Zirkin is right. Owners should be held responsible for the actions of their dog unless they can prove convincingly that the dog was provoked. The effect of an injury is the same whether it’s the first or second bite. Either way, medical bills should absolutely be covered. The number of previous bites seem more relevant to the question of punitive damages.

As the Gazette has reported, Del. Simmons’ thinks that demands for stricter liability are rooted in “histrionics:”

In its November report, titled “Dog Bites in Maryland and Other States: Data, Insurance Coverage and Liability,” the Department of Legislative Services found that since 2005, only one death in Maryland was attributed to a dog bite.

Compared to other states, Maryland has an average number of dog bite injuries, the report said, noting that very few states had data available.

Among injuries from external causes — such as from motor vehicle accidents, firearms, water, fire, machinery, falls, medications and more — dogs bites accounted for about 1 percent. Maryland logged about 465,000 externally caused injuries in 2010, of which about 4,800 were dog bites.

“The facts are an antidote to the epidemic of disinformation and factoids about dog bites and the histrionics that have accompanied it,” Simmons said in a statement provided to The Gazette.

My guess is that means around 4,800 more people per year who disagree strongly with Del. Simmons. While I imagine most injuries are relatively mild, some aren’t. The anecdotal cases derided by Simmons include some very serious ones.

Supporters of a loose standard claim that this is a boondoggle for trial lawyers. But the tighter standard provides a much stronger incentive for owners to take responsibility for their dogs. And responsibility is the key word here. Should the responsibility rest with the dog owner or the injured person?

Seems obvious to me.

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UPDATE: Hough Announces Primary Challenge

The battle for Republican purification by Tea Party in Frederick County commences. As expected (see here and here), Del. Michael Hough has announced a primary challenge to incumbent Sen. David Brinkley. Sure enough, Hough is already calling Brinkley a RINO–John Wagner at the WaPo has the story.

Will it make it harder to get these done in the session? Democrats have huge majorities in both chambers. But the challenge incentivizes Brinkley to be not just oppositional but intransigent as Hough will attack any compromise as a heretical betrayal. Result: the Republicans get even less than usual.

For the Maryland GOP, this vote boils down to whether they even want to be relevant in a state hostile to their ideas.

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