The Game Is Rigged

The Montgomery County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly has 32 members. With the recent appointments of now Senator Will Smith and now Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins due to the vacancy created by the election of former Senator and now Congressman Jamie Raskin that number has risen to 37.5%[i] or more than 1 in 3 of our elected officials in Montgomery County having arrived in ‘elected’ office through a non-democratic appointment process instead of being elected. 12 members of the current delegation arrived there through appointments without having been directly elected to office by their constituency. So in our great democracy, one-third of our representatives were not chosen democratically by the people they are meant to represent.

The appointment process is doubly damaging in Maryland since we are one of five states that has a four year term for the lower house in the state legislature. In effect, delegates appointed a year into a four year term are able to serve in elected office for the equivalent of what would be a term and a half in any of the 45 other states that only have two year terms for the lower house.

Even if we are disconsolate over low voter turnout, even lower informed voter turnout, and the gradual disappearance of local press who once held these 'elected' officials accountable, it seems that even those who do show up to the polls on election day only have a chance to elect 2 out of every 3 of their elected officials.

Add to this federal gerrymandering that disenfranchises Marylanders by carving districts that elect an individual that does not represent most of the geographic area.

Then take note of our reality where there are no limits to self-financing campaigns such that wealthy individuals can essentially purchase elected office and then note that campaign contributions are not limited to the universe of constituents that the candidate is seeking to represent. If public financing of elections were extended beyond statewide offices to state legislative races, limitations on the source and amount of contributions could begin to be enforced for those who choose to participate.

What chance then does our Democracy have if our government has already either been bought or stolen and no one knows about it because no one is reporting on local or state government anymore?

The game is rigged and citizens ought to be outraged.

In the 2016 election a referendum was passed that now would require a special election for the statewide offices of Comptroller or Attorney General become vacant. There has additionally been legislation that has been previously introduced that calls for providing voters with an opportunity to fill the vacant seat at the next regularly scheduled election without waiting for the four year term to expire.

This legislation ought to go even further, asking that all candidates for appointments foreswear running for office in the next special election when the vacancy would be filled by direct election. This has precedent in the appointments of Karen Britto to fill the seat of Delegate Bill Bronrott of District 16 and of Cheri Branson to fill the seat of Councilmember Valerie Ervin. Such a pledge would enable fair and competitive elections to transpire that would not be eclipsed by the power of incumbency.

[i] There have been 57 appointments to the Maryland House of Delegates in the last 19 years since 1997: 11 of these vacancies were in Montgomery County, 8 of whom are still in office. Montgomery County has 8 districts with 3 delegates each amounting to a total of 24 delegates.

There have been 21 appointments to the Maryland Senate in the last 19 years since 1997: 5 of these vacancies were in Montgomery County, 4 of whom are still in office. Montgomery County has 8 districts with 1 senator each amounting to a total of 8 senators. 50% or half of Montgomery County's current senators have been appointed into office.