TheBayNet Letter to the Editor

LEONARDTOWN, Md. — The following letter comes from Brandon Russell of Leonardtown:

“There has been much consternation over HB447, a bill from Delegate Crosby (D-29B) intending to change how St. Mary’s Countians vote for County Commissioners. The conversation about this idea has included misleading information and outright propaganda. 

Currently, residents vote for five County Commissioners–four who must run as a resident of a specific Commissioner District (1, 2, 3, 4) and one who runs at-large and is the Commissioner President. All candidates are elected at-large. The districts are in place to ensure geographic diversity of those who are elected. HB447 would change local law to require the four commissioners who run for a district be elected by the votes from only that district.

One argument against this bill says that it will reduce voting for five Commissioners to just two, the at-large Commissioner President and the Commissioner running in your district. A counter argument is that it will make your vote more powerful because it allows a voter to elect their direct representative and hold that person accountable. Currently, if Candidate A receives 80% of the votes in a district, that candidate will lose to Candidate B if the rest of the county votes for Candidate B. In effect, no district has a real say over who represents that district as a Commissioner because the entire county votes for all five commissioner positions.

The County Commissioners and members of the St. Mary’s County Delegation quietly supported another bill, HB597, which they called a referendum. HB597 would place a question on the general election ballot in 2024 asking voters how they prefer to elect Commissioners. Actually, this bill is not a referendum–the results of which would be legally binding–but is a “straw poll” with language stating “the vote on this question is advisory only.” Meaning, a majority of voters could select to change how Commissioners are elected but the Commissioners would not be legally required to honor that decision.

Another argument against HB447 posits that voters have not had the chance to offer their opinion on this idea because the bill was not discussed at the local level. Verbal and written testimony was accepted both in-person and virtually for HB447 during its committee hearing in the statehouse. Meanwhile, only written testimony is accepted for HB597. Neither bill was discussed at the joint meeting of the Commissioners and Delegation in December 2022, when a public forum on proposed legislation was also held.

The Democratic Party enjoyed a higher voter registration among St. Mary’s County voters but that trend changed about a decade ago. Some argue HB447 is an attempt by Democrats to regain seats on the Commissioner board. However, election data over past decades shows a mixed bag of results between the parties. In the most recent election, no Democratic candidate won their individual district. It would seem voting by-district would not give one party an advantage over the other. At-large voting benefits whichever party has the majority of registered voters in the county and  has favored both parties over the years.

Full transparency–I support the idea of voting by-district. I also support the ability of voters to make informed decisions based on factual information. Unfortunately, the local Republican Party has continued to espouse information intended to mislead voters on this issue. One look at the Facebook posts of several Commissioners or the recent cover and contents of the St. Mary’s County Times, will reveal the propaganda machine at work.

Voters deserve a factual, unbiased presentation of this issue in order to make an educated decision about whether or not to support HB447. “

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  1. Delegate Crosby would not repeatedly introduce bills to change from at-large to by-district county commissioner elections unless he thought it would be advantageous to Democrats.

    1. Representative democracy usually is beneficial to Democrats, while Republicans benefit from voter suppression, but that’s not a reason to oppose a more democratic way of electing representatives.

      It’s pretty simple. If county commissioners represent a district, then the people in that district should vote for them, and people outside that district should not, any more than folks in Charles County should get a vote on St. Mary’s County’s commissioners or vice versa.

      1. Voter suppression is arguably changing from at-large voting for all five of the county commissioners to voting for only two in by-district elections.
        It’s pretty simple. The existing county commissioner districts are solely for the purpose of residency not representation.

        1. I would add that voter suppression is also evident in Crosby’s opposition to holding a binding referendum to let the people decide whether to make this change in elections.

  2. what a good letter to the editor by jennifer c [in the newspaper] about a piece of legislation shes concerned about.

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