By-district vot­ing draws mixed opin­ions, de­bate

Record Observer - - Front Page - By CHRISTO­PHER KERSEY ck­ersey@ches­pub.com

SUDLERSVILLE — Is it time to change the way county com­mis­sion­ers are elected?

That was the cen­tral is­sue at an in­for­ma­tional meet­ing held by the Queen Anne’s County League of Women Vot­ers on Tues­day, Oct. 4, at the Sudlersville Se­nior Cen­ter. About 50 peo­ple at­tended the meet­ing. In­cluded in that were 38 mem­bers of the pub­lic, and the rest were or­ga­niz­ers, the pan­elists, a TV crew and the press.

The by-district vot­ing is­sue will ap­pear as a non­bind­ing ques­tion on the next elec­tion’s bal­lot, ask­ing if four county com­mis­sion­ers should be elected only by the vot­ers of the district in which the can­di­date re­sides. The fifth com­mis­sioner will re­main elected at large.

Cur­rently, peo­ple in the county can vote for all five com­mis­sion­ers. If en­acted, the voter would have two county com­mis­sioner rep­re­sen­ta­tives, one from the district in which the voter lives and the at-large com­mis­sioner.

The Oct. 4 meet­ing fea­tured pan­elists giv­ing open­ing re­marks and an­swer­ing ques­tions from the pub­lic.

The pan­elists in fa­vor of by district vot­ing were County Com­mis­sioner Jim Mo­ran and Church Hill Com­mis­sioner Char­lie Rhodes. Against the by-district vot­ing pan­elists were County Com­mis­sioner Steve Wil­son and Jack Brod­er­ick, pres­i­dent of the Kent Is­land Her­itage So­ci­ety.

Mo­ran said he sup­ports the com­mis­sion­ers he sits with but thinks vot­ing by district can give the vot­ers fair and balanced rep­re­sen­ta­tion. He said that if can­di­dates aren’t re­quired to win their district, then why have districts.

On the other hand, Wil­son said by-district vot­ing would trans­late into “pork bar­rel” style of govern­ment with can­di­dates only re­spon­si­ble for their district. “We need to rep­re­sent the county as a whole,” he said.

Rhodes ar­gued in fa­vor of by-district vot­ing be­cause, ac­cord­ing to him, it would pro­vide con­ti­nu­ity be­cause it’s less likely all county com­mis­sion­ers will be voted out at once.

Brod­er­ick likes the cur­rent method of vot­ers elect­ing all the county com­mis­sion­ers. “I’m not will­ing to give up my abil­ity to hold all the county com­mis­sion­ers ac­count­able,” he said

Wil­son ar­gued that by district vot­ing doesn’t add to vot­ers’ rep­re­sen­ta­tion at the county com­mis­sion. He also noted that, if the change is en­acted, vot­ers will only have two rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the five-mem­ber county com­mis­sion, which he calls “tax­a­tion with­out rep­re­sen­ta­tion.”

But Mo­ran said the Mary­land Gen­eral As­sem­bly has rep­re­sen­ta­tives that vot­ers in Queen Anne’s County didn’t vote for. Can­di­dates

vot­ers choose in a district are tri­umphed by vot­ers in other districts, he said.

When asked a ques­tion from the moder­a­tor, Rhodes said he didn’t see any neg­a­tive im­pact with by-district vot­ing. It’s eas­ier, he ar­gued, for can­di­dates to run in just their district. “I see it as a pos­i­tive for Queen Anne’s County,” he said.

Later on in the meet­ing, he said, “I be­lieve in fact it would re­duce the turnover in county com­mis­sion­ers.”

The county’s League of Women Vot­ers will hold an­other pub­lic fo­rum on the straw poll vote at 6:30 p.m. on Thurs­day, Oct. 13, at the Kent Is­land Li­brary at 200 Li­brary Cir­cle (off Route 18) in Stevensville. It will fea­ture the same pan­elists.

The ques­tion on the up­com­ing elec­tion bal­lot will read: “Do you fa­vor chang­ing the method of se­lec­tion of four of the five mem­bers of the Queen Anne’s County Board of County Com­mis­sion­ers from the cur­rent method of be­ing elected at large by the vot­ers of Queen Anne’s County, with one mem­ber re­sid­ing in each of the four elec­tion districts, to a new method where each of the four mem­bers is elected by

only the vot­ers of the district in which the mem­ber re­sides and the fifth mem­ber is elected at large and may re­side in any district of the County?”

The re­sults of the elec­tion vote are not bind­ing, and it will fall to the cur­rent County Com­mis­sion­ers to de­cide whether to pro­ceed with any change.

Ac­cord­ing to the League of Women Vot­ers, these fo­rums are purely in­for­ma­tional and elec­tion­eer­ing is not al­lowed to take place in the build­ing. Cam­paign type lit­er­a­ture and para­pher­na­lia are not al­lowed in the build­ing be­fore and dur­ing the fo­rums. Signs out­side and dis­tri­bu­tion of cam­paign ma­te­ri­als out­side af­ter the fo­rum are per­mit­ted.

The League of Women Vot­ers is a non­par­ti­san or­ga­ni­za­tion that en­cour­ages the in­formed and ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion of cit­i­zens in govern­ment and works to in­crease un­der­stand­ing of ma­jor pub­lic policy is­sues. Women and men age 16 and older are in­vited to join the League.

The gen­eral elec­tion is Tues­day, Nov. 8, but early vot­ing is from Thurs­day, Oct. 27, through Thurs­day, Nov. 3.

PHOTO BY CHRISTO­PHER KERSEY

Pan­elists de­bated the by-district vot­ing straw poll at a meet­ing on Tues­day, Oct. 4, at the Sudlersville Se­nior Cen­ter. From left: County Com­mis­sioner Jim Mo­ran, Church Hill Com­mis­sioner Char­lie Rhodes, County Com­mis­sioner Steve Wil­son, and Jack Brod­er­ick, pres­i­dent of the Kent Is­land Her­itage So­ci­ety.

PHOTO BY CHRISTO­PHER KERSEY

Steve Mee­han of Kingstown asks a ques­tion about di­ver­sity on the Queen Anne’s County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers dur­ing an in­for­ma­tional meet­ing about by-district vot­ing on Tues­day, Oct. 4.

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