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In a closed administrative session, the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners voted 4-1 to retain the county’s three election districts and not send an amendment on the matter to the Maryland General Assembly for its 2013 session.

During a public hearing to discuss the county’s 2013 legislative package Tuesday night, Commissioners’ President Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) made an impromptu announcement to the four state delegates in attendance that the commissioners decided earlier in the day the county would continue with three election districts.

“The board felt more comfortable with three districts,” Clark told the state delegates.

Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) told the delegates she was the opposing vote.

“We took a vote last year and we need to stick with it,” she said during an interview Wednesday.

Shaw explained the vote was to not ask the legislators to change the election districts, “which means the law will stay the same, if they listen to us.”

Shaw explained that, if the legislators wanted, they could choose to add the measure to the upcoming legislative session.

Clark said, in a phone interview Thursday, that he wasn’t sure that they could do that and that he believes it should be left to the board of commissioners to decide.

“I see the big ticket as election districts,” said Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) of the items the BOCC is supporting for state legislative action. “To throw that out ... is a step backwards.”

Miller explained that the BOCC appointed the members of the commission, wanted the legislature to look at granting the county the ability of having five election districts, wanted the commission to look at five districts and asked them to bring recommendations, and then the BOCC rejected it.

“We’ll debate it,” Miller said, adding that he would like to see the issue given over to the League of Women Voters to “see what the people want.”

Maryland House of Delegates Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) rebutted Miller’s statement. “I understand the senator’s opinion, but you guys are the elected board,” he said. “I would no way in heck turn this over to unelected officials.”

“OK, so much for that,” Clark said.

During the interview Thursday, Clark said he’s “never surprised by the things that happen in those legislative evenings.

“Does it upset me? No. ... It’s political. ... It’s the name of the game,” Clark said. “We’ll figure out how to make it work,” he said of working with the county’s state representatives on the issue.

County Attorney John Norris said Wednesday the vote for the number of districts was done administratively, which is permitted, according to the definition of administrative function.

That definition states that “administrative function means the administration of a law of the State; a law of a political subdivision of the State; or a rule, regulation, or bylaw of a public body.”

Norris explained that because the board was not taking any legislative action on the matter, it was allowed.

Clark said Thursday that the discussion about the election districts was on an administrative session agenda, and after “debate about it,” the county attorney said the vote was permitted during the session.

Leading up to the decision

In May 2011, the BOCC authorized the formation of the Calvert Redistricting Committee in light of the population statistics from the 2010 U.S. Census. Then in June 2011, the BOCC requested local legislators to draft a bill giving the commissioners the authority to create up to five election districts if that is what they ultimately choose to do.

The nine-member committee consists of five BOCC appointed members, one appointed by the Calvert County Democratic Central Committee, one appointed by the Calvert County Republican Central Committee, one member appointed by the League of Women Voters of Calvert County and the ninth member appointed by the NAACP Calvert County branch.

The CRC was charged with looking at the formation of five election districts and how the president of the board is elected, said CRC Chairman Wilson Parran.

Currently, one commissioner is chosen from each district and two are chosen at large, which is a system that has been in place since 1978.

The last time redistricting occurred was in 2002, also using a redistricting committee.

Parran said CRC received public input before making a presentation to the BOCC last November. He said that at that point, the CRC leaned toward five districts in which the board members would be voted per district but would run countywide.

During that November 2011 presentation, the BOCC voted 3-1, with Commissioner Pat Nutter (R) voting against the motion because, he said at the time, he believed the issue should not have been decided without Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) in attendance.

In early December 2011, Parran said legislation was crafted to go from three to five election districts, though it wasn’t submitted for the 2012 legislative session. After that, he said he and other CRC members met with the commissioners for direction on where the CRC should be going since the legislation wasn’t sent to the General Assembly.

Parran said the BOCC wanted the CRC to “go back and come up with some solutions that they could look at,” which he said were options for both three and five districts.

Ultimately, the CRC presented three scenarios each for three and five districts, he said, during an Oct. 23 administrative session.

“At that meeting, they were discussing whether to go back on five districts,” Parran said, noting that he was unaware of the BOCC’s vote until Tuesday night’s announcement.

“Clearly, the commission understands that a final decision is up to the board of commissioners,” he said.

District lines still need to be redrawn

Despite this decision by the BOCC not to increase the number of election districts, the district lines must still be redrawn to reflect the county’s population.

Clark said he believes the BOCC will see proposed lines in December or in early January.

According to census data, Calvert’s population grew from 74,500 in 2000 to 88,700 in 2010. Also, the number of registered Democrats and Republicans increased by 28 percent and 34 percent, respectively.

Parran said the number of precincts may increase with the redrawing of the lines.

“We agreed that as we go forward, when we redraw the lines, we wanted to make sure they were as symmetrical as possible,” he said.

The district lines will need to be sent to the Maryland Department of Planning for approval and to ensure the drawn lines reflect voting laws and regulations. After that, the General Assembly will be able to make a decision as to whether to adopt the new lines or not.

Norris said Wednesday he believes that for the redrawing of the lines to make it into the upcoming legislative session, there would need to be a vote on the lines in December or early January.

Clark repeatedly said that the vote for the district lines would be “out in public.”

aharrison@somdnews.com