Applications are now open for St. Mary’s County’s decennial redistricting committee — leading several community members to request that the commissioners appoint a politically-balanced board.
The five-person committee, each appointed by one commissioner, will draw the district lines for the county commissioners’ four election districts, which are also used for the St. Mary’s board of education.
At the commissioners’ public forum on Tuesday evening, delayed slightly by telephone issues, several county residents, some encouraged by the local Democratic Party, requested for the commissioners to create a balanced committee based on members’ political affiliation, a balance that is required in some surrounding counties.
The equal political balance is also part of a separate redistricting commission Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced on Tuesday afternoon, with an equal number of left- and right-leaning members who will recommend district lines for the state legislature.
Both parties “have vested interest to make sure the lines are drawn based on population, and not by political affiliation,” St. Mary’s school board member Rita Weaver told commissioners on Tuesday evening. “I believe that St. Mary’s County should follow suit, with the county redistricting board, with the same political makeup of the board Governor Hogan is proposing.”
St. Mary’s NAACP President BJ Hall said he believed the board should not only be bipartisan, but should also “look like the county” as far as race and gender.
The new district lines would last for 10 years, until after the 2030 U.S. Census is completed.
Commissioner Eric Colvin (R) said on Wednesday he believed at the state and federal levels, legislative districts in the county were “absolutely” gerrymandered to favor Democrats, but the commissioner districts had not had a problem with gerrymandering.
“It’s different with the county, too, because we’re not voting by districts,” Colvin said.
Currently, during local election years all county residents vote for all five commissioner seats no matter what their district is, although county Democrats including Del. Brian Crosby (D-St. Mary’s) are attempting to change that through the state legislature. Commissioners, however, must reside in the district they represent.
“People are not gerrymandered out of voting for a commissioner,” Colvin said.
Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) disagreed with imposing a partisan requirement, but said, “It’s definitely a good idea to make sure you have gender, race, all these things taken into account.”
“I just believe we need to get middle of the road people who aren’t too left or too right,” he said, adding he would not want to appoint anyone with “some sort of agenda.”
Commissioner John O’Connor (R) said he supported the idea, and said St. Mary’s could “be a leader” in mending differences between the parties by choosing a bipartisan board.
“This could be a solid step in doing that, especially as an all-Republican board,” O’Connor said.
The deadline to apply to the St. Mary’s county redistricting committee is Thursday, Jan. 21, and the committee is currently scheduled to have its first meeting on Feb. 24, according to an online calendar.
Charles County will not be appointing a redistricting board until at least April, when census data is likely to be released. Calvert County does not currently have plans to seat a redistricting board, information officer Sarah Ehman said.