Special Elections Constitutional Amendment Passes

A ballot question amending the Maryland Constitution has passed, providing the State’s central committees a role in appointments to fill vacancies in the offices of Attorney General and Comptroller and requiring special elections.

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The unofficial results of the 2016 elections as published by the Maryland State Board of Elections state that 72.5% of voters (1,588,346) voted for the State Constitutional amendment, “Question 1.”

Previously under the Maryland Constitution, the Governor chose who would fill vacancies of the offices of Attorney General and Comptroller.

Ballot Question 1

The ballot Question 1 in this year’s election amends the State Constitution by limiting the Governor’s appointment selection to a list of three names set forth by the vacating official’s political party. It also requires a special election to be held for voters to have a role in determining the next office-holder.

From the ballot,

Under the amended law, if the vacating Attorney General or Comptroller was a member of a political party, the Governor must fill the vacancy from a list of three names provided by the political party of the vacating official, and if no names are provided by the political party within a set time period, then the Governor must select a successor from the political party of the vacating official. If the vacating Attorney General or Comptroller was not a member of a political party, then the amended law requires the Governor to appoint any qualified individual. The Governor must make the appointment within a set time period following the vacancy. The amended law requires a special election to replace the successor if the vacancy occurs early enough in the term to allow for candidates to participate in the regular elections held in the second year of the vacating official’s term.

New Process Details

  • The State Central Committee of the political party of the vacating officeholder has 30 days to deliver a list of candidates to the Governor.
  • Each individual whose name is submitted to the Governor must have been a registered voter affiliated with the political party of the vacating officeholder on the date immediately preceding the date on which the vacancy occurred.
  • The Governor must make an appointment within 15 days of receiving the list of candidates from the political party.
  • If the vacating officeholder was not affiliated with a political party, the Governor must appoint any qualified individual within 15 days after the vacancy.
  • The Senate must still approve an appointment for Comptroller.
  • The Governor must declare special elections for vacated offices during the next regular statewide primary and general elections.

Politics

Legislation to allow the ballot question was passed by the General Assembly this year. Chapter 511 of 2016 passed the House 89-49 and passed the Senate 33-13. Enactment of the legislation was dependent on the outcome of the ballot question.

As described by the Baltimore Sun, the legislation divided along political lines, and “the amendment could favor Democrats,”

The last time a governor was able to replace a state elected official of the opposite party with one of his own was in 1952, when a Democratic attorney general resigned to take a seat on the Court of Appeals. GOP Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin appointed a Republican to serve out the remainder of that term.

After Hogan was elected in 2014, General Assembly Democrats became concerned that long-ago history could repeat itself. The amendment could favor Democrats because Republicans haven’t elected an attorney general since 1919 or a comptroller since 1898. The GOP has had more success with governors, though the party endured a long stretch of losses between 1966 and 2002.

The measure passed both houses of the legislature by a supermajority vote that went almost entirely along party lines. Because it is a proposed constitutional amendment, Hogan could not veto it.

For more information, see the full story from the Sun, Maryland voters will decide how governor fills vacancies for two statewide offices.

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