Though the next general election is almost two years away, work will soon begin to prepare Caroline County resident for their first hybrid Board of Election.
Caroline County voters approved a hybrid school board, made up of two appointed and three elected school board members, by a vast majority in the November election, when nearly 90 percent voted in favor of the move. It will replace the current five-member, all-appointed board in the county, and make Caroline the only Maryland county with a hybrid system.
The bill also states that two non-voting student board members will be appointed, one from North Caroline High School and one from Colonel Richardson High School, to be chosen by the principals of the high schools.
State Sen. Richard Colburn, R-37-Mid-Shore, sponsored the hybrid board bill that was passed in last year's legislative system. Colburn said unless the general assembly changes the date of the 2012 primary election in next year's legislative session, the voting districts will have to be established and school board candidates will have to be registered to run by Dec. 6, 2011, 70 days before the primary election Feb. 14, 2012.
"It's not much more than a year away," Colburn said.
Per the bill, Caroline County commissioners must split the county into three education voting districts of equal population. One board member will be elected from each voting district.
Colburn said those lines must be drawn and approved by the general assembly before the filing deadline of Dec. 6. 2011, but the commissioners must wait until they receive the latest U.S. Census data before they can do so. Colburn said commissioners should have that data by April 1, 2011.
The general assembly will hold a special legislative session next fall, Colburn said, to approve redestrictings.
Colburn said he has been sponsoring bills that would establish an all-elected board in Caroline County for at least the past decade, but those bills always died because of concerns about minority representation.
State Sen. Joan Conway, D-43-Baltimore City, chairman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, Colburn said, was especially concerned about minority representation. Colburn said he looked into creating as many as nine voting districts to ensure a minority district, and thus a minority member of the board, but there is no concentrated minority population in the county.
Thus the compromise was made to let the governor continue to appoint two members, so that, in the case no minorities are elected, the governor can still appoint at least one.
"There was not going to be a bill passed without the hybrid, because it guarantees the governor can appoint a minority," Colburn said.
Per the bill, the governor's appointments must now be approved by the senate. The governor's choices currently do not need such approval.
"That's another important thing to note," Colburn said.
When the primary election is held in February 2012, there will only be school board members on the ballot if more than two have registered to run in one district. The top two vote-getters will continue on to the general election.
Colburn said the primary election will be non-partisan, meaning the top two vote-getters in each district will continue regardless of if they are in the same party.
In order to establish staggered terms, the two elected members who win their districts with the top two totals of votes will serve four-year terms, while the third district winner will serve a two-year term. After that, all elected members will serve four-year terms.
Two new appointed members will be selected by the governor as well. One will serve a six-year term, and one will serve a four-year term. After that, all appointed members will serve four-year terms.
Colburn said he was glad to see such a large majority of Caroline County voters agree on the referendum.
"I was hoping for a vast majority, one way or the other," Colburn said.
Though the hybrid board has only recently taken effect in Caroline County, Colburn said there is a good chance he will introduce legislation once again in coming years to establish an all-elected board, as he feels many residents would prefer to elect all the members.
"Since (the hybrid board) has just been approved by the residents of Caroline County, let's just wait and see how it works," Colburn said.