Elections better than party politics

March 28, 1994

Annapolis just filled a vacancy on the City Council by the best means possible -- an election. City voters chose the person they wanted to fill the empty seat. They chose Louise Hammond not because of her party, but because they liked her positions. At any level of government, this ideally is the way representatives should be chosen -- by the people.

That is why we cannot support a city bill that would give power to fill mayoral and aldermanic vacancies to political central committees and, ultimately, to the council itself. Under the bill, proposed by Alderman Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, the central committee of the party to which the departing alderman or mayor belonged would choose several candidates; then the council would appoint a replacement from among those names. These procedures were used until the late 1980s, when the council decided elections were better.

Why change back? One reason, Mr. Snowden says, is that special elections have the potential to drag on forever, since the law doesn't set a time period during which they must be held. Of course, that wasn't a problem in the recent Ward 1 election, and it would be easy enough to amend the law to ensure elections are held in a timely manner.

No, the main reason for returning to appointments is partisan -- though, ironically, Mr. Snowden's party benefited from the special election just held. "If a party wins a seat, it ought to have the right to continue that position," Mr. Snowden says. To those who would argue that partisanship doesn't play a significant role in small-town politics, he correctly points out that the outcome of such important local issues as the proposed jail expansion on Jennifer Road is determined by party loyalties more often than not.

But while party matters tremendously to insiders, its importance to voters, especially at this level of government, is debatable. People tend to vote for candidates they like, regardless of party label. That is why it is always best for citizens to decide for themselves who they want to represent them, if possible.

In larger jurisdictions, special elections can be so expensive and difficult to arrange that it isn't always possible. But as recent events showed, a special election in a place the size of Annapolis works fine. There is no reason to change.

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