No Way to Run a Rodeo

There are 14 candidates who are seeking the vacancy for the District 36 Senate Seat vacated by the resignation of E.J. Pipkin (including, of course, Red Maryland’s own Andrew Langer). Meanwhile, the impending resignation of Rob Garagiola from the Senate in District 15 is causing its own problems over on the Democratic side of the aisle

Once again, both parties are trapped by the process that is ensconced in Article III, Section 13 of the State Constitution:

SEC. 13. (a) (1) In case of death, disqualification, resignation, refusal to act, expulsion, or removal from the county or city for which he shall have been elected, of any person who shall have been chosen as a Delegate or Senator, or in case of a tie between two or more such qualified persons, the Governor shall appoint a person to fill such vacancy from a person whose name shall be submitted to him in writing, within thirty days after the occurrence of the vacancy, by the Central Committee of the political party, if any, with which the Delegate or Senator, so vacating, had been affiliated, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Senator or Delegate, in the County or District from which he or she was appointed or elected, provided that the appointee shall be of the same political party, if any, as was that of the Delegate or Senator, whose office is to be filled, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Delegate or Senator, and it shall be the duty of the Governor to make said appointment within fifteen days after the submission thereof to him.

(3) In the event there is no Central Committee in the County or District from which said vacancy is to be filled, the Governor shall within fifteen days after the occurrence of such vacancy appoint a person, from the same political party, if any, as that of the vacating Delegate or Senator, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Senator or Delegate, who is otherwise properly qualified to hold the office of Delegate or Senator in such District or County.
(4) In every case when any person is so appointed by the Governor, his appointment shall be deemed to be for the unexpired term of the person whose office has become vacant.
(b) In addition, and in submitting a name to the Governor to fill a vacancy in a legislative or delegate district, as the case may be, in any of the twenty-three counties of Maryland, the Central Committee or committees shall follow these provisions:

    (1) If the vacancy occurs in a district having the same boundaries as a county, the Central Committee of the county shall submit the name of a resident of the district.

(2) If the vacancy occurs in a district which has boundaries comprising a portion of one county, the Central Committee of that county shall submit the name of a resident of the district.
(3) If the vacancy occurs in a district which has boundaries comprising a portion or all of two or more counties, the Central Committee of each county involved shall have one vote for submitting the name of a resident of the district; and if there is a tie vote between or among the Central Committees, the list of names there proposed shall be submitted to the Governor, and he shall make the appointment from the list (amended by Chapter 584, Acts of 1935, ratified Nov. 3, 1936; Chapter 162, Acts of 1966, ratified Nov. 8, 1966; Chapter 681, Acts of 1977, ratified Nov. 7, 1978; Chapter 649, Acts of 1986, ratified Nov. 4, 1986).

Trending: Candidate Survey: Chris Chaffee for US Senate

In February I said that it was time, given events in Anne Arundel County, that vacancies for county offices should be filled by special election and it remains apparent that we need a Constitutional amendment to call for special elections for legislative vacancies as well.
Let’s take a look at the process in the District 36 vacancy (which is obviously of greater interest to our readers). In the 2010 General Election, 46,269 voters cast a ballot. Of those, 29,238 voted for E.J. Pipkin. As Len Lazerick noted, we then drop down to a situation where 32 people will ultimately decide who will serve in the Senate through January 2015. But the way that Central Committee membership, county demographics, and voting patterns break down puts a disproportionate amount of power in the hands of the smaller county Central Committees than the larger ones.
This chart shows the average Pipkin votes per Central Committee member in each of the four counties in District 36:

CC Members Pipkin Voters Pipkin Voters per CC Member
Caroline 9 2,939 326.6
Cecil 9 8,522 946.9
Kent 7 4,391 627.3
Queen Anne’s 7 13,386 1912.3
Clearly Queen Anne’s County, in the District 36 example, is grossly underrepresented when compared to the Central Committees in the other counties, however at the end of the day it takes a majority of Central Committee members in only two counties to, at the very least, forward a candidate’s name to the Governor for consideration.
In these cases extremely small counties, such as Caroline County in this instance, get a disproportionately large amount of power as compared to their size and voting strength. And that’s not fair to the rest of the voters in District 36.
Further complicating the process is the fact that the 14 candidates in District 36 will be run through the ringer by each of the four County Central Committees. Each Central Committee is going to have its own process, its own way of doing things, and its own timetable for how to meet the September 10th deadline. What complicates matters here is the fact that there is no standard by which Central Committees are required (or even recommended) to operate in the State Party bylaws. A reasonable Central Committee will open the process up for public inspection, advertise their meeting locations for public interviews, vet the candidates in public, and then consider the candidates in due course (and frankly there will be serious questions about the process for any Central Committee that doesn’t do this basic step). But, unfortunately, none of that is required by law or Party Bylaw. The Central Committees are free to do pretty much whatever they want in this realm and can choose, if they so desired, to conduct the entire selection process in secret.
This is no way to run a rodeo folks.
The only fair way to ensure that voters in situations like these (and really, in all situations surrounding vacancies) have their voices heard is to allow the electoral process to continue as it always does. We need to have special elections to fill vacancies. The most important thing in processes like these are to ensure that the voice of the people is heard, and the only way to do that is to pass a Constitutional Amendment to make that Happen.

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