The County Council last week approved two resolutions to place charter amendments on the November ballot, both of which would alter the composition of the council, if passed.

One, introduced by lead sponsor Councilmember Evan Glass (D–At-Large) would divide the county into seven districts, rather than five. Each district would vote for its councilmember while also voting for four at-large members, for a total of 11 council members.

The second, placed by petition from a group called Nine Districts for MoCo, would eliminate at-large members and divide the county into nine districts, each with its own councilmember.

The group argues on its website, “County legislative decisions are made by representatives from a small area called the ‘down county crescent’ that largely includes Silver Spring and Takoma Park.

“That means decisions about your public services, transportation, housing, development, and taxes are made by Council members from an area with only 30% of county population!”

The group was required to gather signatures from 10,000 registered voters in the county in order to qualify for the ballot; more than 16,000 were submitted Aug. 3 to the Board of Elections for verification to qualify for inclusion on the ballot.

The council approved the question for the ballot, as required by law, pending verification; it did not endorse the question.

“On its face, [this ballot question] might seem sensible,” said Glass during the his introduction of the 11-member resolution, “but such a proposal would actually be a step backwards. There are two main reasons why:

“First: Establishing nine districts would create a parochial system in which communities would be directly pitted against each other.

“And second: It would diminish the voice of every resident, by reducing the number of people they can vote for—from five to one. Why would anyone want to give up 80% of their elected representation on the County Council?”

Instead, noting the growth of the county’s population since the council was expanded to nine members in 1986, Glass said, “Adding two districts would put us more in line with comparable jurisdictions, increase the diversity of the council, and allow residents to maintain an important component of our current system––voting for more than one member of the council.”

Montgomery County’s population is slightly more than 1 million residents. For comparison, Prince George’s County, with about 900,00 residents, has 11 councilmembers. Fairfax County’s 1.1 million residents are represented by 10 councilmembers.

The Board of Elections is expected to issue its ruling on the petition on Aug. 17.

Graphic from Flickr user Alan Cleaver, used with permission

Mike Diegel