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Calvert County senators proposed a bill this legislative session that, if passed, would modify the method of electing the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners.

The bill would require each candidate for the office of county commissioner to specify when filing a certificate of candidacy with the Calvert County Board of Elections whether they are running for a specific district or at large, beginning with the November 2014 election.

“It’s a minor variation of the current law,” Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) said Friday of the proposed bill. “It’s not a major change, honestly.”

Miller is sponsoring the bill along with Sen. Roy P. Dyson (D-Calvert, St. Mary’s, Charles).

Under the proposed law, candidates in a specific district would run for their district and other candidates who are residents of the county would run at large. Five county commissioners would remain, with one from each of the three districts and two at-large commissioners; however, the change is that the candidates would have to specify which when filing for candidacy.

Miller said that even though candidates who file for a specific district are running for their district, they also are running at large and are elected at large, as is the current practice.

“It’s convenient in Calvert to run at large,” Miller said.

The proposed bill is “basically” what the Calvert County Redistricting Committee came up with, Miller explained, adding that “neither of [the commission’s proposals] should have been rejected.”

He said the proposal from the commission to alter the district lines was rejected because three of the commissioners would have had to run against each other. Under the proposed bill, “the commissioners don’t have to run against each other,” Miller explained. “That way, no one can say this is a Democratic proposal or a Republican proposal.”

Miller said the bill was drafted because there are current and past commissioners who, after being elected, couldn’t explain how they were elected, and because the current BOCC recently rejected proposals from the redistricting committee.

“It’s accountability for the voters,” Miller added.

He said he would like to “do better” and redraw the lines so the districts are more symmetrical and the variation among the districts is more equal.

House Minority Leader Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) said Friday he is familiar with the proposed bill, but that he is still looking into it.

“We have to see what we have to work with,” O’Donnell said, adding that he wanted to see if it has “any merit.”

Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said Tuesday that she wished “the senators would have put in exactly what the public had wanted,” as detailed in the redistricting committee surveys and responses from county residents. “Now, we have two senators making the decision” about the method, rather than county residents or the commissioners.

She said she “gives them credit” for drafting this, though, because it is “an attempt to fix the current problem.” Shaw added that after speaking with Miller on Saturday, he plans on amending the bill to include two more districts, a north district and a south district, resulting in five election districts.

Miller explained Tuesday morning that the bill was “drafted erroneously” and doesn’t reflect the intent of the bill. The amendment, he explained, would differentiate between the candidates for the three individual districts and those running at large, and that all candidates will be running countywide.

“It clears up the intent of the bill,” he said, adding it would “clear up” who the candidates are running against and for whom the voters are voting.

Shaw explained that the bill, with those amendments, would “encourage candidates to run as a slate, and I think those are bad. … I don’t like slates, and they have not been very successful in Calvert County.”

Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said the bill would make the campaign and the election “more partisan” and the focus would be on “partisan issues” rather than local issues, which he said is how the county elections have been focused. The bill will “upset the balance that has worked for this county for so many years,” he said.

Slaughenhoupt said, “I think the citizens will suffer from it.”

He added that the senators have “ignored what the commissioners wanted” and the bill “continues state intrusion” into county affairs and decisions.

“He is doing it for clearly political reasons,” he said. “He’s trying to get more Democrats elected.”

Commissioners’ President Pat Nutter (R) said he doesn’t have a “tremendous amount of information” on the proposed bill yet, but Miller has mentioned it to him.

“There has been some conversations going on about it,” Nutter said, adding that he would like to sit down with Miller to discuss the bill and would like to spend time reviewing the bill before he makes any further comments on it. He added that he, too, heard Miller was discussing amendments to the proposed bill creating a north district and a south district, resulting in five total election districts.

Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) said he was approached about the idea of the bill in January but wasn’t certain Miller was going to introduce it.

He said he doesn’t know that the bill would give any political party an advantage, but it “may serve to simplify the process.”

The bill “basically” creates five individual races as opposed to the three individual district races and the two at-large races, he said, adding that it may make the campaign and election simpler because candidates would know who they’re running against and voters would have a better idea of who they are voting for.

Clark said he is “staying open-minded” about the proposed bill and is “just waiting and listening to discussion.”

Dyson could not be reached by time of press.

A hearing on the bill is scheduled for 1 p.m. March 7 in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, of which Dyson is the co-chairman.

aharrison@somdnews.com