While elections are on people’s minds, it is a good time to examine how the Hyde County Board of Commissioners are elected.
At present, five commissioners represent the following five townships: Lake Landing, Swan Quarter, Currituck, Fairfield and Ocracoke.All Hyde County voters elect these commissioners irrespective of the precinct where the voters reside. How commissioners are elected in the state’s 100 counties varies. Hyde’s county-wide voting method is the same for nearby Carteret and Dare counties. Washington County consists of five members, four of whom are elected from districts and one of whom is elected at large. In Franklin County, five of the seven commissioners are elected by each district and the remaining two commissioners are elected at large.
The question arises, should the 700-plus registered voters on Ocracoke, be voting for a candidate in, say, Currituck, with whom they are not familiar or understand the important local issues?
Likewise, should voters in Fairfield be voting for a commissioner to represent Ocracoke? What do mainlanders know about the island’s special challenges with, say, waste management, emergency services and ferries?
In the 2012 election, Ocracoke’s commissioner Darlene Styron lost to challenger John Fletcher, 603 to 486, yet, Styron carried Ocracoke 131 to 110.
There are pros and cons to the different methods of election. Commissioners elected county-wide may have more incentive to learn about the many challenges throughout the county and not just in their local area. They may also be more responsive to petitions coming from outside of their districts.
On the other hand, a new and highly competent local candidate in a township can be at a serious disadvantage to winning an election against an incumbent of which the entire county has at least some passing familiarity.
Then there is the often-expressed home-grown sentiment of, “Why should voters on the mainland who are not familiar or even care about Ocracoke’s unique issues be selecting our candidates?”
It’s a legitimate question.
Because there are no incorporated municipalities in Hyde County–thus making the county commissioners the defacto “city council”–the Observer feels that having each township select its own representative would be more like a true council and better serve each township’s needs.