Bill to Usurp Local Authority Over County Elections Moving in House

A bill to mandate the method by which county commissioners and council members are elected to represent specified districts is moving in the House of Delegates. MACo opposes HB 655, as county governments are concerned that this one-size-fits-all approach would infringe on local autonomy and flexibility in local governance.

The method and structure of county elections are matters reasonably left to those governed. Currently, that authority is properly vested in county governing bodies, regardless of their local structure of governance. County commissioners and council members are elected at-large, by district, or by a combination of these methods. This bill would usurp local authority by requiring the election of a commissioner to represent a specific district to be decided by a plurality of votes cast within that district.

In American jurisprudence, the proper venue to remedy any defect in district-drawing or representative structures is the courts, rather than a superior political body.

The House Ways and Means Committee voted 14-8 to pass an amended version of the bill, and send that report to the floor of the House of Delegates for a full vote. The bill is scheduled to come up this week in the House.

Since there was no crossfile for the bill, if it passes the House, it will have its initial hearing in the Senate and must then be passed by its assigned Senate Committee, and the full Senate.

From the MACo Testimony:

MACo generally stands for the ability of county governments, guided by their locally elected officials, to serve and react to community needs. County governments – who meet regularly year-round and are deeply immersed in the community – are in the best position to manage these local affairs. Local decision-makers are elected to serve public needs, and their actions are subject to broad citizen and stakeholder input, and they are directly accountable to voters. This law would diminish local accountability, and local voter input. HB 655 would infringe on local autonomy and decision-making by setting an unwarranted and troubling precedent that threatens to erode responsive and accountable governance.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2021 legislative session on MACo’s Legislative Tracking Database.