As we move through mail-in and early voting and head to election day on July 19th, does it concern you that 25 percent of the current House and 30 percent of the current Senate started their legislative careers, not by being elected into office, but by being appointed?
Twenty five states in the United States hold special elections to fill vacancies in their state legislatures. Maryland does not.
In Maryland, County Central Committees typically recommend a replacement from the same party as the former seat holder, whom the Governor then appoints. Appointed members serve out the remainder of the four-year term. The process is enshrined in the Maryland State Constitution – see MD Constitution Article III – Section 13.
Maryland’s process creates a false equivalency between an election and an appointment.
With the power of incumbency, those appointed to fill vacancies typically prevail in elections and this results in the large percentage of current members in our legislature who started with an appointment.
In many Maryland counties, central committee members have little contact with the voters in their own districts, and often none at all with voters in other parts of their county. Central committee members may seek this voluntary position due to interest in local politics or as the first step up the elected political ladder or both. During elections, they are often carried on the slates of candidates running for other positions. Thus, the recommendations and appointments to vacated assembly seats are heavily influenced by the existing power structures in the county and have little to do with the wishes and needs of the voters in the district.
The Bills That Tried to Partially Fix the Problem
In an attempt to change the existing system, there has been a bill each year in the House since 2017. The bills have required that the appointed member stand for election at the next statewide election – whether it is the gubernatorial or presidential cycle. The lead sponsors (Del. David Moon and Sen. Clarence Lam) saw these bills as a partial but pragmatic solution that would begin to address the problem in the current system, while acknowledging that the ideal solution would be a special election without the intermediate appointment as articulated by the bill version in 2015.
It is problematic that while the bill has been approved by the Senate three times – unanimously – with bipartisan support – in 2020 (44-0), 2021 (47-0) and 2022 (45-0) – the House bill has only had the hearing required of all bills by House Rules and has never received a sub-committee discussion or a committee vote. In General Assembly parlance, the bill has been “put in the drawer”. This protects leadership from the need to articulate opposition, while simultaneously protecting the status quo.
Necessary democratic reform should not be thwarted in this fashion by power held in the hands of leadership, who use it to determine whether a bill should move or not.
We do not elect delegates and senators into office in order for them to find themselves unable to move needed legislation forward year after year.
We have asked every candidate running for the state legislature in this election if they will support a constitutional amendment bill to hold special elections – no appointments – for vacancies in the General Assembly.
You can see the results from candidates running for the House here and for the Senate here. We will update the results periodically.
Meanwhile, this spreadsheet contains the names and emails of all the candidates running for House and Senate seats in this election. Please email the candidates in your district and ask them to sign the pledge – there is nothing like some pressure from voters in the district!
You can send the candidates in your district these links to send us their pledges.
Have additional questions? You will find our FAQ under the Democracy tab in the top bar of our website.
Would you like to help with this campaign? Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org