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Election districts in the county are going to remain the same following a contentious vote by the commissioners on Jan. 29.

During the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners meeting, the commissioners voted 3-2 to keep the current three election districts with their boundary lines; Commissioners’ Vice President Steve Weems (R) and Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) were opposed.

The Calvert County Redistricting Committee presented three possible boundary options — in order of recommendation — for the three election districts and noted that the current lines still meet all state criteria.

“Although it is a viable option that you could select, it actually violates the direction you gave us because it is not as symmetrical as the other options,” Wilson Parran, chairman of the Calvert County Redistricting Committee, explained of keeping the boundary lines the same during the presentation.

Parran said the committee’s final recommendation to the BOCC is that the board consider clarifying and simplifying the election process “because the options are based on three districts; you still have the complication in terms of how commissioners are elected.”

The state requires the population used for redistricting calculations be based on the 2010 Census adjusted population, which means census data must be adjusted to reassign Maryland residents in correctional institutions to their last known address and to exclude out-of-state residents in correctional institutions from redistricting, according to the 2010 Adjusted Census Population for Maryland by county and region. The ideal district size is calculated by dividing the county’s entire adjusted population, 88,903, by the number of districts, according to the CCRC presentation. The districts cannot vary from this ideal of 29,634 people per district by more than 5 percent. The Maryland Department of Planning requires district boundaries be based on unbroken census blocks and must follow roads or identifiable natural features.

The first option, which the committee recommended for adoption, was as symmetrical “as you will be able to get,” Parran said. The deviations from the ideal 29,634 district population were 0.18 percent in District 1, 0.27 percent in District 2, and District 3 was below the ideal by 0.44 percent.

The second option presented had 0.68 percent deviation from the ideal district population for District 1, followed by 0.17 percent below and 0.51 percent below the ideal for districts 2 and 3, respectively.

The third option for redrawing the lines had 2.45 percent and 0.48 percent below the ideal district population for districts 1 and 3, respectively, and District 2’s population deviated from the ideal by 2.94 percent.

“The public can, and often does, vote in a way that doesn’t optimize their votes,” Shaw said of the misunderstanding the public has of how the commissioners are elected. “And then they become very angry when they realize what happened and they feel disenfranchised, and the whole goal originally was to improve that whole system.”

She noted that the board had accepted the committee’s original recommendation to adopt five election districts and then decided not to follow it. “And consequently, I cannot vote for any of these recommendations because the original recommendation of the committee was to go to five election districts voted at large,” she said.

In May 2011, the commissioners established the CCRC to determine if the election district boundaries should be adjusted based on the 2010 Census. The CCRC communicated with the public about the issue and in November 2011, the committee recommended to the BOCC to change the number of election districts to five. Also, as part of its recommendation, there would be one BOCC candidate from each district and they would all run countywide. In addition, the BOCC president would be elected annually by the commissioners — as is the case currently.

The BOCC voted to accept the recommendation from the CCRC, and legislation was developed to change the number of election districts. However, that legislation was not introduced during the 2012 Maryland General Assembly legislative session.

Then, in July 2012, the board directed the committee to prepare three map options for the five election districts and three for the three election districts. Those options were presented to the BOCC in October.

In a closed administrative session, the BOCC 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 on Nov. 13, then-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 then requested the committee recommend three options for the three election district boundaries.

“I just feel like it’s not the right thing to do,” Shaw said. “I believe that the right thing to do is to follow on the path.”

Commissioners’ President Pat Nutter (R) said he opposed five election districts from the beginning, citing the committee’s survey results.

“It was indication that while the majority ­— the majority and that’s what I went by — majority of the folks felt there was nothing wrong with the districts … but the voting, the way that it was not broken.”

Nutter said the committee combined the numbers of those who wanted four or five election districts as people who wanted change. “So to me, the majority said, ‘It’s not broke. Don’t fix it,’” he said.

But Parran said the combined numbers of those who wanted four or five districts, “which meant they wanted change,” was actually “a higher percentage that wanted a change.”

Weems said, “If I had my way, I’d like to have [the election districts] placed on the ballot the next election.” He added, “We, as a body politic, could implement some modifications” to simplify and clarify the BOCC election process.

Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said a way to help clarify and improve the election process is that candidates need to be able to better explain how the process works.

He noted that the current lines “are not ideal” even though the criteria is met. But, he said, he has to weigh that against sending redrawn lines to the state legislature where “we’re certainly opening the door to some state official to redraw the lines and potentially making Calvert County as gerrymandered as we’ve seen the state do with congressional districts.”

Slaughenhoupt said that for him, the bottom line comes down to the cost of the change and who is going to benefit from that cost. The least amount of cost, he said, would be to keep the lines as they are.

aharrison@somdnews.com