When the Maryland General Assembly convenes for a 90-day session in January 2024, there may be at least three proposals that, if approved, could have a significant impact on politics and elections on the Eastern Shore.
The first proposal would change the current process used to fill vacancies in the General Assembly that result from death, resignation, removal, or other unexpected reason.
Under current law, local Republican party central committees and local Democratic party central committees have a key role in the replacement process. The central committees are charged with screening and recommending potential successors who are affiliated with the same party of the departing or departed legislator. Once central committee members reach agreement on recommendations for a successor, they are sent to the Governor who makes the final decision on an appointment to fill the vacancy until the next election.
In previous General Assembly sessions, legislation has been introduced regularly to require special elections to fill general assembly vacancies that occur within the first two years of the four-year legislative term. None have been seriously considered. That may be changing sooner rather than later.
Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson recently opined that he is uncomfortable with the power that local party central committees possess in filling general assembly vacancies. In response to a direct question asking if he was “fine” with the current system, Ferguson replied bluntly, “I do not think it is fine the way it is.” Ferguson also said the 2024 legislative session is a good time to consider change legislation, because any proposed revisions to the process to filling legislative vacancies could then be placed before voters in a statewide referendum.
That said, obstacles to change remain. The most formidable is strong historical resistance from the State Board of Elections on using special elections to fill legislative vacancies. Their opposition is based on the Board’s concern about the expense and an extra administrative burden on the state and local election boards in conducting such elections.
The second proposal would change how vacancies are filled when a seat on the Talbot County Board of Education is vacated due to death, resignation, removal, or other unexpected reason. Under current law these vacancies are filled by the Governor. The Talbot County Council has been and is discussing requesting our local General Assembly delegation to introduce legislation authorizing the County Council and the Board of Education to name a replacement to fill a vacancy on the school board. Those discussions are ongoing.
The third proposal that could have a significant impact on politics and elections on the Eastern Shore is adoption of ranked-choice voting. This by far is the most far-reaching proposal in terms of change and complexity. It also the least likely to get meaningful traction in the upcoming General Assembly session.
A ranked-choice voting system (RCV) is an electoral system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until one a candidate wins an outright majority.
Approval of this concept is not likely in the upcoming General Assembly session. On this change, Senate President Ferguson recently said, “I am almost entirely certain that ranked-choice voting is the way to go, but do not believe the concept will be approved in the General Assembly anytime soon”.
He said his current prediction is due to the amount of suspicions some voters have about election integrity (his observation, not mine). Ferguson has further said “When there are so many questions about elections in general, I am reluctant now to move [ranked-choice voting] forward. I think more education is needed. But I do think it’s something that will happen eventually.” Again, his words, not mine.
David Reel is a public affairs/public relations consultant who serves as a trusted advisor on strategy, advocacy, and media matters who lives in Easton.