Democracy & Governance Reform
Nancy and Pat support Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in the strongest possible terms.
Nancy Wallace and Pat Elder strongly believe that all Maryland citizens should be able to vote in state, county and local elections. This fundamental right of a human being to have a voice in their own government is the basic contract by which the government exists in the first place. Incarceration should not waive that right. The viewpoint of people for whom the system is not working, who have been incarcerated, is particularly important in solving our problems. All voices should be included.
This inclusion also serves as a subtle brake on the tendency of governments and elites to
concentrate power to themselves, and to imprison opposition. Since Maryland has the highest rate of incarceration of Black men in the United States, the current prohibition on this voting leaves out major input from people with lived experience on our problems from our public policy decisions.
GOVERNANCE REFORM – BREAK THE PARALYSIS OF MD STATE GOVERNMENT
Nancy Wallace and Pat Elder recommend major reforms to the state government processes
especially the state legislature in order to bring real representative democracy to Maryland. Reform is also needed so the state legislature can quickly address the crises of climate change. Our undemocratic, elitist, current legislative processes have led to Maryland’s public policy
paralysis. The well-known rule of thumb is that it takes three years to get even a good, small bill
through the Maryland legislature. This delay is now actually dangerous, demoralizing our
citizens and stopping critical climate program consideration. We propose a “Green Democracy”
package of state government reforms, based on four principles:
1) True Majority Voting (aka Ranked Choice Voting or RCV) – We must have real
representative democracy in every county and state election which reflects the majority of the
electorate’s preferences – through Ranked Choice Voting. Also, the state legislature itself
should use RCV with on-the-record voting for selecting committee chairs and subcommittee chairs. RCV is used in Maine, Alaska, New York City, San Francisco, Takoma Park and many other jurisdictions in the US and other countries. Learn more about RCV here.
2) Citizen Equality – Every citizen is equal to any other, so every citizen’s elected representative should be equal to every other representative. Seniority – the length of time someone has served in the legislature – has to stop being the basis for committee assignments
and committee chair appointment, with its massive power to “kill” a bill that the party
leadership does not like. A first-time elected representative is just as important as a 30-year
representative, as are their constituents. The current system is a recipe for paralysis and
policy failure through invisible, despotic control by party leadership.
3) Citizen Empowerment – citizens must be able to initiate major policy changes and new
directions themselves, without waiting for the legislature to consider and reject a change, as
we have now. The simple citizen referendum we have in our counties and throughout the US
is prohibited in Maryland at the state level. Citizens must be able to launch ballot initiatives from the state legislature to exercise our freedom as citizens.
4) One-Session Decision Making – We must have a government that is able to act quickly on
the major programs required for an emergency response to the climate change catastrophe. The legislature should be in session at least six months, and expanded salaries and staff resources provided for legislators to consider major new policy approaches thoroughly. State legislators should work throughout the year instead of just 90 days, and the antique requirements to “read” a bill three times on the floor of the chamber should be dropped. We have computers now, folks.
5) Elections for Vacancies, Not Party Appointments – citizens should elect their representatives whenever possible; representatives should not be appointed by party elites (central committees). The Democratic Party at the state level in particular uses vacancies to advance individuals favored by the inner circle of the party. Then, that appointed, “approved” insider gets years of publicly-funded name recognition built up before the next election, and virtually always wins their first actual election. We need open elections for each vacant seat unless it is very close to a regular election.
6) Objective Redistricting, No Jerrymandering – every 10 years after the national census our legislative districts are modified. Right now in Maryland this is a terribly partisan, power/dominance oriented procedure, which ends up with court suits virtually every time. The Brennan Center for Justice is a national, non-partisan group that researched a wide variety of re-districting commissions around the country and has specific recommendations for “…careful design to promote independence and incentivize discussion and compromise.” We should implement one of the recommended models for Maryland and stop “combat politics”.
Specific Reforms to Implement These Principles:
1. True Majority Representation
a) If the founders of our country had thought of Ranked Choice Voting, I think they would
have required it up and down our government. Our current system of simply “the most votes
wins” simply does not statistically produce a winner who accurately represents the majority will
of the voters if there are more than two candidates. This system encourages power politics and
fear-based voting, which is the opposite of the values-based voting we need now – and it discourages the true majority of women and so-called minorities from running for office. We need new voices with new ideas, courage, and comprehensive new programs to implement creative policy solutions, with a deep understanding of the larger system of nature and life with which we must now make peace. Ranked Choice Voting has been proven in many jurisdictions to bring exactly these new people into politics.
b) RCV should be used not only for general elections, but also for elections within the state legislature such as Speaker of the House, President of the Senate, and all committee chairs within the committees. This will ensure the leadership is truly representing the majority’s preference.
c) Recorded votes at all levels of state legislature – Basic accountability of representatives to the citizens requires us knowing how our representatives voted on every vote. Then we can
see if the majority’s values and positions were supported by the people we elected, or if they
went off track once they went to Annapolis. Every vote in subcommittee, committee, and the chamber floor should be a recorded vote, and available online for citizens to see immediately. You are our representatives, we are paying your salary, and we want to see how you vote.
2. Citizen Equality
a) Each committee should elect its own chair, so no chair is selected based on how long they’ve served or friends with leadership. Just as today the members all vote for the Speaker and President, each committee should be empowered to select its own chair, using RCV. The
transmission belt of the old, entrenched elites must stop over-riding the representatives’ equal
access to the committee chair positions where virtually all bills are killed. Our current system
greatly undervalues citizens of newly elected delegates, and overvalues those of longtime delegates. This corresponds directly to undervaluing the constituents of new delegates, and
overvaluing constituents of longtime delegates.
b) The leadership and committee chairs’ duties should only be administrative – to schedule
committee meetings, hearings, and votes. Every bill should be voted on in subcommittee and
committee, with a recorded vote, in the order it was introduced.
c) Committee assignments should be made by Ranked Choice Voting, so representatives get
the assignment that each one wants the most – everybody is equal. There is no seniority in choice of committees – in fact, one might say that after four or eight years on one committee, that person should move on, and let representatives with new fresh ideas have a chance to influence programs.
d) Leadership (Speaker of the House and President of the Senate) should be elected by
Ranked Choice Voting, with on-the-record, on-the-Internet voting. Control of the floor of the
House and Senate are key powers and voters have the right and responsibility to know how their elected representatives voted.
3. Citizen Empowerment
a) Citizen referendums – enable state-wide referendums, not our stultifying current process
of citizens “only voting up what the legislature has voted down”. The current approach puts the
control of all issues 100% in the hands of the current state legislature first, cutting off the ability
of the voters to bring up an issue or position on their own. This not only cuts out the direct voice of the citizens, it doesn’t allow voters to empower representatives to make major changes, that reps might not want to take on by themselves. Let us have our say!
b) Allow new incorporation of municipalities – municipalities were previously halted by the
state legislature in order to centralize control at the state and county level. For instance, citizens
of Silver Spring have expressed that they would like their own jurisdiction, because they don’t
get fair consideration of their own issues when dealing with a large county program. With the
older, pre-existing municipalities of Takoma Park on one side, and Kensington and Chevy Chase
on the other, Silver Spring is not allowed to implement initiatives on their own like these older
towns. It then has less of a community spirit and less commitment to resolving local issues, feeling disempowered. We need more sense of community in America, not less. It should be up to the local people as to whether they have a local jurisdiction of their own.
4. One-Session Decisions
a) Drop the “three readings” rule – The easiest step to speed up decision-making is simply
to eliminate the 18th century “three readings” tradition. Although it once served a purpose 240
years ago when people may have been delayed in their carriages coming to Annapolis, it is
utterly unnecessary now.
b) Consider bills in the order in which they were introduced – not only for hearings as we do
today, which can be just five minutes and a formality – but also real committee and
subcommittee votes. Every proposal should see the light of day. The new ones are especially
important, and should not be “put in the drawer” and killed because established leadership doesn’t support them – which happens with nearly all new ideas in the current system. All votes should be recorded and available on the Internet immediately.
c) Extend the session to at least six months – with extension in pay for members and staff. A
year should be considered, since the planet is dying and we need massive transformation of our government programs now. This will also stop the abuse of representatives and staff, who go without sleep and weekends during the “shot clock” atmosphere of the current 90 days. Members should be able to get reasonable amounts of sleep throughout the session, with reliable weekends off. This will support women as parents and lower-income people entering the political arena, and bring important new voices into the legislative process. It will also allow more evening sessions, which will encourage more citizen participation in hearings. It will also provide more time for the public to communicate with members on issues and reduce the “back door” work which determines so much in the state legislature today – and which gives corporations, professional lobbyists, and “insiders” the upper hand.
d) Fund adequate staff support for legislators – Every member should have their own staff
person, not sharing staff as in the House of Delegates. Members from the same district may have different positions, and deserve staff who are dedicated to those positions and have time to research new proposals. Since the state has a $2.3 billion “rainy day fund” and then pleads it
doesn’t have the money for the legislators to have adequate staff, it certainly appears that the
representatives are disempowered, and the leadership elite then can make all significant decisions themselves.
e) The legislature should decide the state budget, not the governor – the current system where the governor sets the budget and the legislature can only increase individual budget items
disempowers the representatives, and puts overly concentrated power in one person, the governor. No other state the US has this system. It undercuts the fundamental exercise of a representative democracy.
5. Elections for Vacancies, Not Party Appointments – change the Maryland Constitution, Article III Section 13 to apply only to unexpired terms of less than one year in the state legislature. A remaining term over one year from the time of vacancy should have a full and open election to fill the term, including a change of party is that is the electorate’s choice. The people are in charge, not the parties.
6. Objective Redistricting, Not Jerrymandering – pass a law in the state legislature establishing a commission according to the best practices recommended by the Brennan Center for Justice, and terminating the two existing commissions, legislative and executive.
In conclusion, we need real democracy and rapid public policy decisions in this time of climate
emergency and the continuing crises in social justice. Our current Maryland legislative processes are killing us and the planet with indecision, delay, unfairness, and lack of transparency. We must have equal representation of new and old representatives’ citizens, we must move quickly, we must have an easier way for the public to endorse a different view than the establishment, and we must have a way for new ideas to see the light of day. After 240 years, major reform to our Maryland legislative processes is long overdue and desperately needed for our survival.