Sharing testimony that I submitted:
Montgomery County Charter Review Commission
July 29, 2017
Chair Bessel and Commission members:
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on possible changes to council representation.
The current council-representation arrangement, with a mix of district seats and at-large seats, ensures both locally-focused representation and the election of councilmembers who answer to all the county’s voters. That’s good. The county should continue to have both at-large and district council seats.
The minutes of the May 10, 2017 commission meeting record, “Commissioners discussed different models for the composition of the Council, including all district (no at-large) membership, fewer at-large members than currently, and all district members elected by countywide vote.”
Should district members be elected by countywide vote? I see little appeal in that approach and won’t address it beyond saying that if geographic disparities are feared now, this scheme would magnify them. In the 2014 Democratic primary, 7,626 District 2 votes were cast for a county-executive candidate, and 19,450 votes in District 1.
Should the number of at-large seats be reduced? Again no, at least not because three of four at-large council seats are held by residents of one corner of the county. This current situation is the result of voter choice within a democratic and transparent process. It is a temporary situation that does not reflect an historic pattern (www.theseventhstate.com/?p=8251) and will end on December 3, 2018.
I would counter calls for reduction in the number of at-large seats with the argument that each Montgomery County voter is advantaged by being represented by multiple at-large councilmembers in addition to that person’s district member.
By contrast, I see underrepresentation issues that the county can and should address. Please consider two steps:
1) Addition of two district council seats, to bring the number of district seats to seven. Hold the number of at-large seats at four. Currently each council district has over 200,000 residents. Adding two districts will reduce this number to under 150,000, presumably boosting district councilmember responsiveness.
2) Institution of Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV), also known as Instant-Runoff Voting, for county offices. I do not see that the Maryland Constitution or code would preclude Montgomery County’s counting votes however it wishes, so long as the counting approach stands up to judicial scrutiny, which RCV would and has. RCV would magnify minority voices in our majority-minority county, per advocacy by FairVote (www.fairvote.org/solutions) and other organizations. (The commission might consider other “fair representation” approaches described by FairVote.)
I would like to see Montgomery County pursue steps that mimic Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), to address registration disparities, although that investigation would be outside the purview of the Charter Review Commission.
Thank you for considering this comment.