Voting Booth Distortions

October 22, 1990

Worcester County is one of a handful of Maryland subdivisions that muddies the democratic process by the way it elects its governing commissioners. Four of the five are chosen to represent individual districts, but they are elected by voters from every nook and cranny in the county, not just district residents.

It is difficult to understand why Worcester -- and some other small Maryland counties -- retain this quaint election system. A more responsive commissioner is one who serves smaller, single-district constituencies. Five commissioners representing 3,500 district residents would be better than five commissioners elected by the county's 17,500 voters.

The problem is particularly sensitive in Worcester because of the growing diversity of its citizens. Many move into developing communities such as Ocean Pines to be near Atlantic beaches. Yet their political concerns hardly coincide with rural farming towns in the western and southern ends of the county. Countywide selection of commissioners prevents the Republican Party, which is making strong advances in some sections of Worcester, from gaining power within individual districts. This election system also sinks the ambitions of blacks and other minorities attempting to gain a say in county government.

On the Eastern Shore, both Dorchester and Somerset counties have adopted district voting since a constitutional amendment in 1986 was approved, allowing non-charter counties to switch from countywide voting. More counties should follow suit, especially those like Worcester, whose growing and diverse population requires more attention to the needs of each district.

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