Carroll's election mess

April 13, 2006

Pity the potential candidates for the Carroll County Board of Commissioners. They're going to have a tough time campaigning for office anytime soon. That's because nobody knows whom they're supposed to represent. The General Assembly's failure this week to approve legislation setting the boundaries for the county's five commissioner districts has left the local election process in disarray.

The controversy started two years ago when Carroll voters approved a referendum expanding the board from three to five members who would be elected by local districts instead of at large. Fair enough. But then came time to draw the districts' lines, and things got complicated.

A bipartisan committee appointed by the commissioners had one idea. The county's delegation to Annapolis had another. And since Carroll's commissioner form of government gives the state legislature final say, political intrigue ensued. Forcing politically moderate Republicans into one South Carroll district instead of two no doubt appealed to conservative Republicans. But that's just one of many political calculations involved.

The legislation's failure appears to have left the county with two options: Run all candidates at large - which is what happens if no further action is taken - and have the seats filled by the top five vote-getters, or sue and ask a local Circuit Court judge to set the district boundaries. Neither choice is particularly attractive.

The conundrum does not reflect well on Carroll's delegation to the state legislature. They shouldn't have interfered with what had been a reasonable process endorsed by the current commissioners and all eight mayors in the county. And it's further evidence that Carroll voters ought to insist upon charter government. That would leave important decisions in the hands of a locally elected county executive and council and not with the pols in Annapolis.

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