If both ballot measures on County Council structure pass, the effect might be no change

If both ballot measures on County Council structure pass, the effect might be no change

Voters will decide on competing proposals on district, at-large seats

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Voters in November will have two choices for how to restructure the Montgomery County Council. If both measures pass, though, it might result in no change, keeping the current structure intact.

The ballot questions for how to change the council — which currently has five seats elected by district and four elected at large — conflict.

Nine Districts for MoCo, a local group formed by residents, wants to get rid of the four at-large seats and replace them with district seats, making an all-district, nine-seat council. The group collected enough signatures to put the proposal on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

A second proposal calls for keeping the council’s four at-large seats, but increasing the number of district seats from five to seven, for a total of 11 council members. Council Member Evan Glass put forward that idea.

If voters approve measures, leaving no clear answer on which change will happen, it’s possible that neither one of them would take effect, according to guidance the Maryland attorney general’s office offered in a similar situation in the past.

Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, told Bethesda Beat in an email on Wednesday that the only public advice the office has given on the issue was a July 18, 2002, opinion, issued by then-Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

“As with all AG opinions, this is advice only and is not binding on any court should the issue come up in litigation,” she said.

Curran’s opinion was issued as part of a request made by the Baltimore City Council regarding what would occur if voters approved two or more different proposed amendments to the city’s charter that would reduce the size of the council.

As part of the request, the council sent an opinion to Curran from the city solicitor, who concluded that “if several charter amendments concerning the composition of the city council were placed on the ballot and more than one received a majority of votes then all the proposals that passed must fail.”

Curran wrote that he agreed with the conclusion, which was based on a letter of advice written by Assistant Attorney General Richard Israel on Oct. 9, 1981.

“We note that, as Mr. Israel indicated, if the voters simultaneously approved multiple charter amendments a court would first attempt to reconcile the various amendments,” Curran wrote. “Thus, our opinion is based on the premise that the various proposals to reduce the size of the city council would be irreconcilable in that they would define districts differently or provide for different numbers of members from those districts.”

At the time, Baltimore’s charter did not provide a method of choosing among several conflicting amendments.

Kevin Karpinski, an attorney for the Montgomery County Board of Elections, told Bethesda Beat in an email on Wednesday that he was familiar with the AG’s previous opinion that competing proposals would fail “because they would be irreconcilable.”

He said the Maryland Court of Appeals and Maryland Court of Special Appeals have not addressed the issue of what occurs if both questions pass.

The group Nine Districts for MoCo has argued that there is not enough representation for residents who don’t live in a concentrated area downcounty.

But Montgomery County Council members have said at-large seats are needed and provide each voter with representation from five council members instead of one.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.

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