A bill that would give the Montgomery County Council the authority to change its voting system to an alternative “ranked choice” method has cleared its first hurdle in the Maryland legislature.
The bill, sponsored by Montgomery Democrats Sen. Cheryl Kagan (Rockville/Gaithersburg) and Del. Eric Luedtke (Burtonsville), would allow the county to transition local elections to a method where voters mark their ballot by ranking the candidates in order of preference.
The proposal was advanced to the Ways and Means Committee for a hearing Feb. 19 following unanimous approval by the Montgomery County legislative delegation on Friday.
Kagan said that the bill had been introduced last year, but only passed narrowly in the delegation. The unanimous support this year, she said, was due to the fact that legislators heard complaints from confused voters who last year faced a choice of 33 candidates in the Democratic primary in the at-large County Council race and six in the county executive race.
“It was overwhelming to most voters, and people wanted more options in their ability to show nuance with their ballots,” she said.
Under the ranked choice system, currently used in five states, the candidate with more than 50 percent of “first choice” votes wins. If no candidate receives a majority, the “second choice” votes are tallied, and the process repeats until a candidate receives a majority of votes.
During Friday’s delegation session, the bill was amended to require a public education campaign if the legislation is approved by the House of Delegates and Senate.
Kagan said she doesn’t believe the new method is too hard to learn, equating it with choosing an alternative type of pie for dessert.
“You go to grandma’s house for Thanksgiving, and she didn’t make the pecan pie, but the apple pie is really good, and the blueberry pie is good too… we do that all the time. In the same way people do that with their candidates. So I don’t think this is going to be foreign,” she said.