After speeches that waxed philosophical about the "state of democracy" and "right to vote," members of the Glen Burnie Improvement Association voted down a proposal calling for mandatory meeting attendance to vote in elections.
"We live in a democracy. We have the right to vote. Other people should not be able to legislate that for us," said Deitra Wengert, member of a GBIA bylaws committee that studied theproposed change.
In one of the more hotly debated topics in recent months, the proposed amendment failed in a 40-35 vote. The vote was not even as close as it seems, since bylaw changes require a two-thirds vote.
Appealing to the older members of the 84-year-old organization, William Gatton, of Oakwood Road, said a rule requiring minimum attendance of three meetings out of the past 12 could preclude many senior citizens from voting in the annual elections.
"I know a lot of people who can't make it (because) they have cataracts, can't drive at night, that sort of thing," he said. "I wonder if a little bit of hate or discrimination creeps into our lives, sneaks into our bylaws? Why are we discriminating tonight against those who can't make it to meetings?"
Gatton, 77, said many people have worked hard for the organization for years but have started to slow down in their old age, making it to fewer meetings. Any rule keeping these seniors from voting would "rub me the wrong way," he said.
Alfred J. Lipin, a GBIA board member and former state senator, said an attempt to legislate attendance is doomed to failure. If the association wants more residents to attend the monthly meetings, he said, it should organize more interesting activities.
"Don't do it by legislation; do it by building up motivation," he said.
Typically, about 50 to 100 people attend GBIA's monthly meetings, held the second Tuesday of each month. The organization, which works to improve the quality of life in Glen Burnie, has about 1,200 members, officers said.
A four-member committee, appointed to consider all changes to the bylaws, recommended against the attendance rule. But the majority of the association's board of directors and elected officers supported the change.
Board member Katherine DeGrange said she believed the change would have helped the membership "become more involved and more interested" and the leadership "stronger and more accountable."
Deborah Brunetti, GBIA recording secretary, said she hoped the rule would avoid situations where an inactive member could win an election by packing the meeting with friends on election night.
"If you're interested, a minimum of three meetings in a 12-month period is not unreasonable," she said.
Since the proposed amendment failed, anyone who is a member can continue to vote in the annual elections in January, as well as occasional special elections.
To join the GBIA, residents must be proposed for membership one month and get voted into the organization at the next meeting.
Potential members must reside within given boundaries laid out in the bylaws.
Also at Tuesday night's meeting, the membership approved several minor changes to the bylaws without discussion. The GBIA has been fine-tuning its bylaws since 1990, when they received substantial revisions.