Busy elections official takes on next challenge

November 30, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

Standing in front of a conference table lined with 1,752 neatly stacked envelopes yesterday, Barbara Jackson experienced a scary moment of deja vu.

Hadn't she just come from the Baltimore elections office, where supporters of Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the apparent loser in the governor's race, were camped out with photocopy machines? Hadn't she just spent three weeks mediating skirmishes between GOP and Democratic volunteers over absentee ballots, voter signatures and precinct records?

Now she was taking a break to check on the progress of a Charles Village tax referendum. This was supposed to be a simple task for Ms. Jackson, the city's elections administrator.

A dozen municipal workers had gathered on the fourth floor of City Hall to sort fewer than 2,000 ballots on the question of levying additional taxes in Charles Village to pay for private security and sanitation services. But before a single envelope could be opened, Ms. Jackson faced an all-too-familiar protest.

Grenville Whitman, a critic of making Charles Village the first residential neighborhood in Baltimore to set up its own tax district, marched up to her with a petition. He and four other area residents asked that all the signatures on the ballots first be compared with voter registration and property records.

"They don't know who these votes came back from," Mr. Whitman said, arguing that the city failed to come up with adequate safeguards against voter fraud. "They mailed out 7,600, and 3,400 are unaccounted for. In no other election are there that many. All we're saying is they should compare the signatures before opening any of these ballots."

Ms. Jackson graciously accepted the petition. But she could barely suppress a sigh later as she said, "I'm a little more involved already than I wanted to be. I was just supposed to be an adviser."

She turned over a copy of the petition to the Board of Estimates. The five-member panel, which reviews all city financial transactions and is monitoring the referendum, will be asked to decide on the ballot challenge today.

The referendum would boost property taxes an average of $50 to $100 per household by imposing a 30-cent surcharge on the city's tax rate of $5.85 per $100 of assessed value.

Organizers envision raising $400,000 a year to hire security guards and trash collectors.

The measure, which requires an affirmative vote from 58 percent of the ballots returned, was modeled after a venture in Baltimore's downtown commercial district. It appeared to enjoy substantial support in Charles Village, but a small, vocal group spent the fall handing out hundreds of fliers in opposition.

By the end of the day, the city committee had counted all the ballots and had begun validating names against a list of eligible voters and property owners.

Ms. Jackson said she's ready to deal with another challenge. But she cautioned that it will have to wait until representatives for Mrs. Sauerbrey, who lost the governor's race to Democrat Parris N. Glendening by 6,000 votes, finish copying reams of voter information in their effort to prove ballot fraud.

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