Straw poll put on ballot
ANNAPOLIS — A straw poll asking for the opinion of Queen Anne’s County voters on whether county commissioners should be elected by district will be on the November ballot.
On Monday, April 11, the last day of the 2016 session of the Maryland General Assembly, the State Senate voted 41-0 to approve House Bill 1344 designed to “determine the sense of the voters of the county on the issue of the method of electing the members of the Board of County Commissioners.”
The bill, introduced by Del. Steve Arentz, R36-Queen Anne’s, had earlier been approved by the House of Delegates on a 138-0 vote on March 31.
The legislation directs that “the Queen Anne’s County Board of Elections and the Board of County Commissioners of Queen Anne’s County shall do those things necessary and proper to place this question on the ballot prepared for the November general election of 2016.”
Backers of the straw poll say it is non-binding and only seeks to gauge public
opinion on whether residents want commissioners elected only by the voters in the district in which they live, with the at-large commissioner continuing to be voted on county-wide. Currently commissioner candidates for the four district seats and the at-large seat are voted on by voters all across the county. That has been the case since the county went from three to five commissioners in 2002.
The non-partisan Department of Legislative Services, which reviews all bills, said in its fiscal and policy analy- sis of the legislation that the straw poll would have no impact on the finances of Queen Anne’s County or the state.
Originally, the bill also sought to ask voters for their opinion on whether commissioners should be elected to staggered terms, such as three one election year and two another election year. However, the House Ways and Means Committee removed that question before approving the bill, meaning that the straw poll will only refer to electing commissioners by district.
The Queen Anne’s County Council of Governments, made up of representatives of the county towns and the county government, has been seeking such a straw vote since last June and requested legislation to permit it. Three county commissioners — Jim Moran, Jack Wilson, and Robert Buckey — sent letters to the Ways and Means Committee saying they favored the straw poll. Buckey said that while he supports the straw poll, he does not favor elections by district or on a staggered basis.
COG representatives said Tuesday they are pleased that the straw poll legislation passed.
“Now the work begins,” said George “Smokey” Sigler, Centreville town councilman and COG president. “The work begins to get the word out to everyone that they can decide who they want as commissioners. We want to get the word out that their votes matter.”
He said there will be town hall meetings in each district in which the matter will be discussed, and he believes the League of Women Vot- ers, who expressed an interest earlier, will be involved. He said he is passionate about the issue.
Church Hill Town Commissioner Charlie Rhodes also sits on the COG and said such public meetings will give people in every district an opportunity to speak and be heard.
“This is another step in the evolution of Queen Anne’s County,” Rhodes said
“I’m very, very happy that voters can express themselves on this matter. This is what we wanted,” said Queenstown Town Commissioner Mike Bowell, who served on a COG committee that studied the matter and made recommendations as to how to proceed.
Bowell said he believes there is a lot of interest among the public about possible changes in the election process, based on conversations he has had with county residents.
“I’m happy the system worked. The testimony went well,” Arentz said Tuesday. He said this will give the citizens a chance to have their say. He also said he expects the county commissioners will be getting involved.
County Commissioner Steve Wilson testified before the Ways and Means Committee opposing the straw poll and the possible changes in the election pro- cess. He called the straw poll “dangerous” because the “way to frame the question is very complicated and it’s hard to get the public to understand the complexities of this issue.”
He testified that the current system in the county has “worked quite successfully without any particular reason to think it’s dangerous,” he told the committee during a March 9 hearing.
Also testifying against the straw poll before both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Committee was Barbara Obert, who chaired a bipartisan committee that studied the county election process following passage of a straw poll in 2000 that preceded the change from three to five commissioners. That committee, she said, recommended the current election process.
“At no time, by anybody proposing this straw vote, have I been queried about that citizen-led process to determine the structure today, nor have other members,” Obert told the House committee. “It proposes to disenfranchise thousands of voters and most of all, it does spend taxpayer dollars to inform ... a process that is very complex.”
The straw poll legislation will become effective July 1.
Quarter Auction benefit for Pony Express 4-H Club was held Sunday afternoon, March 6, at the 4-H Park in Centreville. Mistress of ceremonies Morgan Starr and Club President Jennifer Gannon hold some of the auction items that were donated by local vendors. This is the Pony Express 4-H Club’s 40th anniversary year.