ROCKVILLE —A new way to choose local leaders could be coming to Montgomery County by the time of the next election in 2022.
On Tuesday, at a hearing for a state bill, people tested in favor of ranked-choice voting, a new proposed way for citizens to choose local leaders. Members of the public testified in favor of the bill in the hope that the Montgomery County state delegation would endorse the change.
The bill, MC 29-19, would allow the County to implement a ranked-choice voting system. If passed by the General Assembly, the bill would allow only the choice for the County to change its charter, meaning the County Council and potentially the County Executive would have to also approve the change.
Ranked-choice voting is a system in which voters select candidates for office by ranking their preferences. Currently, voters choose only one candidate per office seat. Ranked-choice voting, however, would allow voters to list their preferences numerically.
Ranked-choice voting – sometimes referred to as instant runoff – requires the winning candidates to have majority support. If one candidate received a majority of the number one preference votes, he or she wins. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, then election officials start counting the second preference of voters until one candidate has a majority of support.
The bill is sponsored by State Senator Cheryl Kagan (D-17) and Eric Luedtke (D-14), who argued that ranked-choice voting would allow a more accurate choice of elected official who better represent the public’s opinion.
“The delegation is not making a determination on whether we should switch to ranked-choice voting for our elections,” Luedtke said. “The delegation is simply making a determination as to whether Montgomery County’s elected officials, the County Council and the Executive should be able to make a determination about whether to move to ranked-choice voting.”
At the hearing, all those who testified spoke in favor of the bill, saying a ranked-choice voting system could give people the ability to vote their conscience rather than vote for the lesser of two evils.
While Kagan and Luedtke’s bill is only enabling legislation for Montgomery County, the hearing became an opportunity for many to voice their preference for a new voting system.
“You can vote for your favorite candidate, but you don’t have to worry that you might be allowing a candidate that you really don’t like to get through without you registering opposition to that candidate,” said Hal Ginsburg, co-chair of OurRevolution Montgomery County.
If the bill is passed by the General Assembly and then passed by the County Council, Montgomery County would become one of many jurisdictions across the United States that use a ranked-choice voting system, including those in Maine, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Takoma Park. However, even with the change, ranked-choice voting would not apply to federal or state elections, only County races.
While he did not testify at the event, Dan McHugh, vice president of the Montgomery County Young Republicans, wrote a response to the proposal, calling ranked-choice voting costly and unfair.
“To me this is almost implementing a voting curve, so are we going to turn our local County elections into a sociology final exam session at Montgomery College?” McHugh wrote.