Two Baltimore County referendum petitions have been overturned by the county board of elections even though they gathered many more than the required number of signatures. The decision to invalidate the petition was based on a scrutiny of the petition form itself. Click here for back info on referendums.
Referendum petition forms have two parts: the front of the form, which is the signature collection portion, and the back of the same page, which is the bill summary. The summary for a referendum petition should be either the bill in totality, or an accurate summary of the bill. The front of the form must be approved in advance by the board of elections. However, when I have been involved in filing petitions in Baltimore County in the past, the board did not review the bill summary in advance even though we wanted them to. We were told we should contact an attorney to review the summary portion. Essentially, the bill summary is scrutinized by the petition opposition, who may decide to challenge it.
Which is exactly what occurred on two zoning decision bills in the county. Both bills were sponsored by an entity operating under the direction of two developers who had development interests in the districts represented by the bills. They presented the petitions to voters as though they were citizen-driven, grassroots efforts. Another developer who had competitive interests in the same properties, challenged their petition forms.
Ultimately, the county board ruled that the petition forms were “legally deficient”, according to an article by Bryan Sears.
The lesson here is that voters need to be engaged and knowledgeable, whether we are talking about petitions, candidates, bond issues, or legislation. A signer should always ask to see the back of the petition form before signing.
Too bad we don’t have a board to scrutinize in the same fashion how candidates and legislation are presented to the voters. Could someone bring a court challenge to the filing of a candidate for office based on his false campaign promises or misrepresentation of his record? Or repeal every piece of legislation that did not do what it was purported it would do, (i.e. speed cameras were for the purpose of safety).
Why are petitions scrutinized and regulated to the point that the only (almost) successful referendum petition in the county’s history was conducted by developers who had the resources to pay $225,000 to circulate petitions under supposedly false pretenses? But true citizen-driven petitions are virtually impossible to conclude successfully given the excessive signature requirements and short timeframe for collection.
In order to have your signature validated on a Baltimore County referendum petition, you must be a registered voter, one of almost 29 thousand required signers (state referendums only require 56 thousand for the entire state) collected within a 30 day and 45 day window, include your middle initial, and have legible handwriting. And your signature must have been collected by a circulator who has to endure their own level of scrutiny in a location that is restricted, sometimes under hostile attacks from petition opposition.
But there aren’t enough regulations on voter registration to prevent illegal aliens from undermining the integrity of our elections. We pay to keep polls open for a week for voting, but our constitutional right to petition seems to be superseded by the opposition’s constitutional right to free and open shout down.
And the fact that the grand majority of our county councilmen are beholden to a few powerful developers has created beasts out of men who are shocked that their campaign contributions are thanked by councilmen who chose a different set of developers to kowtow to. How dare they? Two petitions were designed to flex the muscles of political clout and threaten the overturning of any future zoning decisions which go against developer interests. And now we get to watch the showdown of competing developer forces in Baltimore County because our councilmen don’t see a conflict of interest in accepting their easy money.
Protect the people’s veto.