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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Charter Board Election May Still Be Held

George Wenschhof

Just, when everyone thought all the bro-ha-ha had died down in regard to the appointment of the Frederick County Charter Board members, an appeal will be pursued by those who filed a petition to hold a special election.

To back up briefly, Frederick County Commissioners appointed nine members to a Charter Writing Board to write the governing document to change the form of government to charter, with the voters having the final say on the matter when the "yes" or "no" question would appear on the 2012 General Election ballot.

The Maryland state constitution allows for a registered Frederick County voter(s) to file a petition within 60 days of the commissioner appointment of the board members to force a special election for members of the board.

Two thousand verified signatures were needed and as most know now, the signatures turned in numbered 2915, but only 1741 were verified by the Frederick County Board of Elections, causing the effort for a special election to fail.

However, verification instructions to staff will now be challenged by the petitioners. About 50% of the signatures tossed out (584) were due to "name standards". You can view the categories for the rejections here.

The instructions given to board of elections staff when reviewing the petitions can be viewed here. Pay particular attention to page four as this deals with validation of signatures. Essentially, the printed and signed name or combination thereof must match the state voter registration file.

This is where the main challenge will be most likely directed. If names were rejected due to failure to include or exclude a middle initial, this action will be most likely overturned, regardless of whether the instructions were available for review by the petitioners, prior to beginning the effort.

Much will be said, from supporters from both sides of the issue, but regardless of the issue, a fairness doctrine will likely prevail when determining the intent of a voter to be heard.

I am reminded of the Senate race in Alaska last year when Joe Miller, with tea party support, upset incumbent Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary. Murkowski went on to run and win a write-in campaign. The Miller campaign initially challenged the legitimacy of many of the write-ins as state instructions called for the name to be spelled correctly. However, the Miller campaign eventually realized the fruitlessness of their endeavor, ended their legal challenge and conceded.

It has been reported, former Frederick County Commissioner John "Lenny" Thompson will argue the case, pro-bono, on behalf of the petitioners. He will seek Frederick County Circuit Court Judicial review.

Unfortunately, the move by the board of county commissioners to begin the process to put the issue of changing to a charter form of government in front of the voters to decide has been met with stiff resistance, mostly from supporters of those candidates who lost in last year's election.

For those of us who have long championed a change to charter government, this is an unfortunate series of events. I was encouraged when the appointed board decided to take my advice of reaching out to the community and involving voters in the writing of the charter. Many areas of the charter need full engagement by citizens, such as whether to elect council members at large or by district and the relationship between the county executive and the council.

This engagement, I believe would serve a two fold purpose in educating the voter on what charter government is and also produce a document which has a greater chance of passing when voters weigh in during the 2012 General Election.

Instead of having a meaningful discussion on the many areas which make up charter government, the early arguments from supporters of both sides have centered along the old and tiresome "growth" versus "no-growth" theme.

I have written previously, I was not convinced to sign the petition for a special election. However, I respect their right to do so.

I also respect the right of those who sign a petition to be heard. If judicial review overturns the Frederick County board of elections decision, it will not be due to negligence of staff, but rather the inappropriateness of the review instructions they were provided.

As, the appointed charter board is continuing to meet, it would be wise for Mr. Thompson to request the court to halt further meetings until a decision is made on whether a special election will be held. If, court review determines a special election will be held, the appointed charter writing board should not meet until after the election.

My hope is for a quick judicial review on this issue. If, a special election is held, so be it.

Then, let's get down to writing a charter with input from the public.


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