The case for Question L Forum Extra

Vaughn Paul Deckret

October 15, 1991|By Vaughn Paul Deckret

ON Nov. 5, city voters will have the opportunity to establish a new arrangement for the election of their City Council. Question L, a proposal on the ballot, would create 18 single-member districts in place of the current scheme of six districts with three council members each.

Single-member districts are not new, legally controversial, or, in fact, unusual. Every major county in Maryland has single-member districts, all with the editorial blessings of The Evening Sun. They are in almost every major American city. Their use in Baltimore has been frequently debated and discussed over the last 50 years.

This type of districting highly recommends itself to the citizens of Baltimore. Nevertheless, as with most such changes, single-member districting is almost always opposed by incumbents.

We believe that the benefits to the city and its diverse population are tremendous. Its successful use in other Maryland counties, including Prince George's, which is demographically similar to Baltimore, stands as a strong practical endorsement.

Single-member districts provide representatives who are more accountable to their constituents. The current system -- three members in districts with roughly 120,000 people -- almost ensures that citizens will not even know the names of their representatives. If you doubt this, we invite you to ask, at random, 10 residents of Baltimore city to name their council representatives. Smaller districts will make it more likely that citizens will know and have contact with their representatives. .. This can only be healthy.

Single-member districts create elected bodies which more accurately reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of communities. We believe that our legislative body, the City Council, should reflect the city's diversity and thus be consistent with fundamental fairness, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Constitution.

The current scheme distorts the makeup of the council. It seems shortsighted to maintain a flawed system with the hope that at some brief moment in time it might produce a council reflective of the citizens of Baltimore. As you have pointed out editorially, this year's redistricting has had almost no effect on the makeup of the council.

There are additional obvious disadvantages to the current scheme of large, triple-member districts. Clearly, it is more expensive and more difficult for an individual to campaign in a district with 120,000 people instead of one with 40,000.

Accordingly, smaller, more compact districts would make it easier for community leaders, minorities and all less well-financed candidates, including Republicans, to wage active and visible campaigns. This fact alone will bring more people to the polls and encourage greater public debate. The winners can only be the citizens of Baltimore.

Opposition from the incumbents has been made plain. We can't expect those in power to establish a system which endangers their power. That is why the Maryland Constitution provides for the voters to place matters like Question L on the ballot. Arguably, this procedure is far more legitimate than the cynical and unseemly deliberations of the various redistricting authorities.

I look forward to a vigorous and thoughtful public debate so that Question L will not be resolved by the election-day power of the incumbents.

Vaughn Paul Deckret is an organizer for Question L and 5th District Republican candidate for the City Council

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