City Republican Party leaders are relieved now that a petition drive seeking a referendum on remaking the City Council into 18 single-member districts has been salvaged.
City election officials yesterday began validating the 15,159 signatures on the petition seeking the change in the City Charter. The petition drive had been in danger of failing because its organizers did not file the required financial disclosure statement with the petition.
"As far as we are concerned, the question will go on the
ballot," said Barbara E. Jackson, administrator for the city Board of Supervisors of Elections.
The referendum question will appear as Question L in the Nov. 5 city general election if, as expected, the required number of signatures are validated. The law says that a petition must by signed by 10,000 registered voters to place a question on the election ballot.
The petition drive was launched by a group called Baltimoreans for Fair Representation, which was organized by Republican activists.
The petition seeks a ballot question on remaking the council into 18 single-member districts. A council president would be elected citywide. Currently, Baltimore has six councilmanic districts, each of which elects three council members. The council president is elected citywide.
The petition drive is opposed by most City Council members and Council President Mary Pat Clarke. Moreover, the city's charter review commission is expected to review the issue beginning this winter.
"I think that if we pressed this in court we could get if off the ballot," Clarke said. "But I saw their volunteers out there hard at work, and I think that it is only fair that they have their ballot position."
The city Republican Party is pushing the referendum effort partly because single-member districts could enhance the chances of a Republican being elected to the City Council. Democrats outnumber Republicans by better than 9-1 in Baltimore and all of the city's major elected officials are Democrats.
Several "good government" and civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of Women Voters and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also support the measure, saying it will bring council members closer to their constituents.
"I'm happy," said David R. Blumberg, chairman of the city Republican Party. "Obviously, if I had known anything about a form that would have taken me 15 minutes to fill out, I would have done it."
The city Republicans had threatened to sue if the elections board did not accept the petition. And as recently as this week, it appeared that the matter would be decided in court.
City Finance Director William R. Brown Jr. at first said he could not certify the petition because it was not accompanied by financial disclosure information required under state law.
Blumberg said the petition drive organizers were not told about the financial disclosure requirement and that the necessary disclosure forms were not included in a petition packet they received from the city.
But yesterday, Brown, with advice from City Solicitor Neal M. Janey, said he would certify the petition. Brown's letter came after Blumberg signed a sworn affidavit saying his group was unaware of the financial disclosure requirements.
"It appears that the sponsor of the petitions did not receive proper and adequate notice of the requirements for filing" the finance report, Brown told the elections board in a letter.