HERE'S A QUICK civics quiz for voters in Prince George's: 1) Are council members elected at large for from districts? 2) How might this procedure change at the next electiion? If you answered "sort of both ways, but not really," or "heaven and the courts only know," take full credit and start boning up for the next round of questions on Nov. 4. On that day there will be a confusing but very real test at the polls.
At present, all-Democratic county council was elected under an offbeat procedure that required five of its 11 members to live in separate districts but to run together countrywide. Under a new law that will govern the elections in 1982 -- unless changed by the voters this November -- five members would be elected solely by voters in individual districts, and the six others would be elected countywide.
Now we come to the tricky part: some Republicans as well as Democrats unaligned with the county's Democratic oganization mounted a successful petition drive to put a new electoral arrangement on the November ballot. It would reduce the size of the council to nine and have all members elected from individual districts. Council members countered, however, with a vote last month to put two more questions on the ballot. One would reduce the council to nine members, with five of them at-large, and the other would keep 11 seats but make some slight changes in the current law.
Sticky Wicket No. 1; the council's action provided that in the event more than one of the proposals were approved, a council version would prevail over the citizen-sponsored amendment. Fair or foul? Lawyers can cite various court opinions in support of either side.
Sticky Wicket No. 2: the council voted just this week, 8 to 3, to dump the citizen-sponsored question from the November ballot on grounds that the petitions had not been properlly notarized as required by the state constitution -- even though the county attorney had contended that under county law the notarization wasn't necessary. Here, too, lawyers say that state and county law is hazy, and suit has been filed.
Election of all council members by districts can produce destructive parochialism and divisiveness, while an all at-large council can submerge minority interests in favor of a single-party organization. A balance of six at-large and five from districts, or five and four, would be workable. But unless the November options are clarified quickly, Prince George's voters will be hard-pressed to make an informed and effective choice.