Chair­man op­poses by-dis­trict vot­ing

Record Observer - - News - By CHRISTO­PHER KERSEY

STEVENSVILLE — The chair­per­son of the com­mit­tee that helped im­ple­ment the cur­rent method of elect­ing Queen Anne’s County Com­mis­sion­ers says the pro­posed by-dis­trict vot­ing isn’t rep­re­sen­ta­tive and ends up be­ing costly.

The by-dis­trict is­sue ap­pears as Ques­tion A on this elec­tion’s bal­lot as a straw poll that isn’t legally bind­ing. A yes vote sup­ports chang­ing to by-dis­trict vot­ing and a no vote sup­ports keeping the cur­rent sys­tem. If en­acted, the voter would then have two county com­mis­sioner rep­re­sen­ta­tives, one from the dis­trict in which the voter lives and the at-large com­mis­sioner — not all five com­mis­sion­ers, which is the cur­rent method.

Bar­bara Obert of Stevensville sat down to an in­ter­view on Satur­day, Oct. 29, to give her his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive, which she be­lieves is why peo­ple should vote against Ques­tion A.

It was a two-year process to de­velop the way vot­ers elect the com­mis­sion­ers to­day, she said. It was de­signed to solve a prob­lem.

“We only had three com­mis­sion­ers [at that time] and so, there was a vote to ex­pand to five com­mis­sion­ers to bet­ter di­vide up the work­load across the county. Also, there was not a [dis­trict] res­i­dency re­quire­ment. Com­mis­sion­ers could live next door to each other,” she said.

There was a straw poll in 2000 where vot­ers ap­proved two changes. One was to change to the cur­rent sys­tem where the vot­ers of the en­tire county elect com­mis­sion­ers who re­side in des­ig­nated dis­tricts. The other in­creased the num­ber of com­mis­sion­ers from three to five.

Af­ter the straw poll, a com­mit­tee was formed to de­ter­mine how to im­ple­ment those changes. So the county ap­pointed an 11-per­son com­mit­tee of cit­i­zens through­out the county. Obert was the chair­per­son of that com­mit­tee.

The com­mis­sion­ers en­acted the changes ef­fec­tive with the 2002 elec­tion.

The com­mit­tee had mem­bers from ev­ery dis­trict across the county, Democrats, Repub­li­cans, men, women, mi­nori­ties, non­mi­nori­ties, farm­ers, stay at-home moms and peo­ple of all pro­fes­sion­als. “It was bal­anced and un­bi­ased,” Obert said.

In the two-year process, the group looked at pop­u­la­tion, vot­ing pop­u­la­tions, dis­tricts, sub-dis­tricts, mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tion, and all the re­quire­ments of the elec­tion law.

“We in­ter­viewed the gov­ern­ments of other coun­ties of sim­i­lar size and de­mo­graph­ics and with dif­fer­ent forms of gov­ern­ment. We con­sulted with at­tor­neys and drove across the county to be cer­tain all com­mit­tee mem­bers were fa­mil­iar with the county,” she said.

The group looked at many pos­si­ble ways com­mis­sion­ers are elected and came up with the cur­rent sys­tem. Obert op­poses by-dis­trict vot­ing based on her ex­pe­ri­ence on the com­mit­tee.

By-dis­trict vot­ing, she said, is less rep­re­sen­ta­tive be­cause a com­mis­sioner who is elected by only a small group of peo­ple is only ac­count­able to that small group. And it gets ex­pen­sive be­cause com­mis­sion­ers com­pete for re­sources only for that small group in their dis­trict.

“So, if in­di­vid­u­als rep­re­sent a very small pop­u­la­tion weld a greater in­flu­ence in the county, they could po­ten­tially ask for more than their pop­u­la­tion share of county taxes,” she said.

The Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly was ap­proached by county of­fi­cials to put the straw poll on the bal­lot for this com­ing elec­tion, but, at no time, did they re­quest a pre­sen­ta­tion from Obert or the re­port from her com­mit­tee.

The push­ers for by-dis­trict vot­ing are count­ing on peo­ple to not un­der­stand the is­sue, she said.

The Coun­cil of Gov­ern­ments, which rep­re­sents towns through­out Queen Anne’s County, has en­dorsed by-dis­trict vot­ing as Ques­tion A asks. Yet, a small num­ber of vot­ers elect rep­re­sen­ta­tives from those towns and some can­di­dates run un­op­posed, Obert said.

One big ar­gu­ment in fa­vor of by-dis­trict is that vot­ers in Dis­trict 4 trump peo­ple’s votes in other dis­tricts.

But vot­ing pop­u­la­tions are equal­ized per dis­trict af­ter each U.S. Cen­sus. “The pop­u­la­tions are roughly equal, and ev­ery 10 years, when the Cen­sus oc­curs, dis­tricts are re-equal­ized.”

Dis­trict 4 does of­ten have the largest voter turnout, but not al­ways.

In the 2012 elec­tion, Dis­trict 4 had 66 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers turn out to vote, the high­est of all the dis­tricts. But in the 2014 elec­tion, which was a com­mis­sioner elec­tion, Dis­trict 1 had the most turnout with 47 per­cent of the reg­is­tered vot­ers.

“The point is, in any given elec­tion, peo­ple have a choice to vote or not vote. It’s not right to change the way we elect of­fi­cials be­cause peo­ple in one dis­trict chose not to vote in an elec­tion. It’s ger­ry­man­der­ing,” she said.

Ques­tion A on the up­com­ing elec­tion bal­lot reads: “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. It’s up to Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly to legally en­act by-dis­trict vot­ing, said Patrick Thomp­son, county at­tor­ney.


Bar­bara Obert of Stevensville was chair­per­son of the com­mit­tee that came up with the cur­rent sys­tem of elect­ing Queen Anne’s County Com­mis­sion­ers. She op­poses by­dis­trict vot­ing.

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