Should empty seats be filled by appointments or special elections? We recently held a discussion between elected officials in Maryland which unearthed a poignant debate about this topic. Should people be represented by someone that they didn’t vote for? On the other hand, is the cost and complexity of running a special election worth it? In our discussion, there were good arguments made for and against both sides, but neither was a clear favorite.
Albert Einstein is famous for saying, “a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels.” In that spirit, the Forward Party has a 3rd alternative to offer in place of appointments and special elections called “Citizens Assemblies”.
MD Forward Party Legislative Working Session
On January 4th, 2024, the Maryland Forward Party held a Legislative Working Session by invitation only with elected officials from across Maryland. Our goal was to understand the needs of elected officials currently occupying elected seats in local, county, and state government, and give them a chance to share their views and concerns with other elected officials, just like themselves. We wanted to find any overlaps, and opportunities to share knowledge and strategy on how to tackle common problems.
It was invite-only because we wanted to hear the opinions of those already dealing with the day-to-day minutiae of public service, and we wanted to preserve the anonymity of our Maryland neighbors. These were not “political operatives” or career politicians, but regular people who had already been selected by their neighbors to represent them in local government. They were real people who had chosen to take on the burden of trying to make the world around them better, one decision at a time.
Appointments Versus Special Elections
One topic that was fresh on the minds of our participants was what to do when an elected official passes away, is convicted, or resigns from their position mid-term? Some jurisdictions hold a special election, while others leave it up to a Chief Executive, like a mayor or a governor, to appoint a replacement.
Those who were advocating for special elections in our working session pointed out that an election represents the will of the people, and gives everyone a chance to both run for the open position, and vote for the winner. From their point of view, appointments by a Chief Executive give an unfair advantage to the dominant party because of the name recognition that is bestowed upon that appointee, all but guaranteeing them a win in the next election.
Those who favored appointments, on the other hand, pointed out that administering elections can cost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, depending on the size of the jurisdiction. The election has to be advertised, ballots printed, polling places rented and staffed, and votes tabulated and certified. Then there are the expenses of the campaigns, additional time spent disrupting citizens’ lives in an effort to win their vote, and an overwhelming volume of political ads that flood our TVs creating further election fatigue. Because of this, off-cycle elections are very under-attended, and the results are dominated by party loyalists anyway. Is this a good use of taxpayer money?
One of our participants shared that he had been appointed to his position, and agreed that it was significantly cheaper than an election, on the order of a million dollars. However, he also shared that it was not an easy process. He essentially had to campaign in a private race with several other candidates, not unlike an election. The core difference, of course, was that the decision was made by a committee of political staff organized by the County Executive, not average citizens.
That left us wondering, “Is there a viable middle ground between an expensive, under-attended public election and a private election held by the political elites within the dominant party?”
Have You Heard About Citizens Assemblies?
At the Forward Party, we do not confine ourselves to “the way it’s always been done.” We are forever on the lookout for new techniques for solving our current political problems using Einstein’s suggestion of “...a new way of thinking…” We asked ourselves, “How can we solve as many of these problems as possible, at the same time, instead of just ignoring one set of problems in favor of solving another?” More specifically, “How can we reduce the cost of special elections AND make sure that the will of all the constituents are being represented?”
One new alternative way of solving all of these problems is a technique called the “Citizens Assembly”. It has been used successfully in the US, Europe, and several other regions of the world. Here at the Forward Party we see it as an exciting new alternative to both expensive public elections and the unfair private party appointments.
In a Citizens Assembly, a random sampling is taken from all eligible voters, controlling for demographics like political affiliation, age, race, gender, and more. A representative sample is chosen and invited to participate in a legally-binding special election which is much smaller in scope and much less expensive. Candidates who wish to run are given the opportunity to make their case to this special representative electorate, through a series of Town Halls and debates, thereby minimizing voter fatigue. At the end of the process, this statistically-accurate cross-section of voters chooses the winner at a greatly reduced cost.
You can read more about Citizens Assemblies at https://citizensassemblies.org/.
Are you a local politician looking for a way
The Forward Party might be able to help you organize
What do you think?
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