As a bill that would change the way county commissioners in Southern Maryland are elected makes its way through the House of Delegates, St. Mary’s commissioners voted Tuesday to ask for a referendum on the matter.
The bill introduced by Del. Brian Crosby (D-St. Mary’s), which is supported by the county’s NAACP branch and local Democrats, would make voters in five counties, including St. Mary’s, Calvert and Charles, elect their commissioners based on which district they live in, rather than at-large. It drew the ire of the all-Republican board of county commissioners in St. Mary’s, who have spoken about the bill at each of their last several meetings.
“This is just about fair and equal representation,” Crosby said on Tuesday. The bill was set to be heard again on Friday before being passed over to the state Senate.
At the St. Mary’s commissioners’ regular business meeting on Tuesday, the board voted to again oppose the bill, and to sign letters to the General Assembly requesting a referendum on whether to move to by-district voting, and another referendum on eliminating districts altogether, which would render the bill null.
“I don’t know if I’d like to have five commissioners from Leonardtown, or Lexington Park, or Charlotte Hall,” Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) said.
“I still think there’s advantages to having geographical diversity,” Commissioner Eric Colvin (R) said.
“I don’t disagree with you, but the cards have been placed on the table,” said Commissioner Todd Morgan (R), who proposed the referendums.
Regardless, Crosby said he’s “not changing the bill,” which is already headed out of the House. Amendments were scheduled to be voted on after press time on Thursday before the bill was scheduled for a third reading on Friday.
“Worst case, it’s next Tuesday,” Crosby said. The bill had been heard at the House’s Ways and Means Committee earlier this month, where several Lexington Park residents spoke in support, and several St. Mary’s commissioners, present and former, spoke against.
“The current system silences voices of voters in specific districts, replacing their votes with those of the majority of the county, potentially leaving voters with local representation elected by others,” William “BJ” Hall, the county’s NAACP branch president, said at that hearing. “This results in disenfranchisement of a large majority of our minority voters,” who live in the Lexington Park area.
Ongisa McKenzie, representing Southern Marylanders for Racial Equality, said the bill would also benefit underrepresented voters in Charles.
“There’s pockets of voters all over our state, whose interests are simply being ignored, and not just along racial lines. This is also a socioeconomic issue,” she said, adding in her native Charles County, rural areas are ignored in favor of population centers. “All these voices have to be heard.”
“Our system is not broken, and we do not need to be told how to restructure it,” Commissioner President Randy Guy (R) testified then, surrounded by Colvin as well as former Democratic commissioners Thomas Mattingly and Dan Raley, who oppose the bill. He noted Raley had run unopposed, and Morgan, who represents Lexington Park, has run unopposed the past two election cycles.
“Our residents have not asked to change the way we vote,” Guy said.