Board of Elections has its hands tied Anne Arundel County: Without quasi-judicial status, Annapolis body lacks clout.

September 08, 1997

THE BOARD OF ELECTIONS Supervisors in Annapolis is in a no-win situation. Although the three-member body is perceived as a non-partisan group charged with protecting the integrity of the election process, almost every case it considers is laden with political implications.

Unless the Annapolis City Council is prepared to broaden the board's authority and elevate its members to quasi-judicial status, the volunteer board's natural tendency in decision-making will be to err on the side of caution.

The board's recent ruling -- later overturned in court -- to allow three candidates for the council to remain on the primary ballot is a good example. When asked to rule on whether three candidates lacked the qualifications as outlined by the city charter to be listed on the ballot, the board knowingly passed the buck. Board Chairman Richard E. Israel openly invited anyone to challenge its indecision.

Had the board disqualified these three -- James M. Conley, a Ward 7 Democrat; Timothy T. Troutner, a Ward 5 Republican, and Michael S. Hay, a Ward 8 Republican -- it would have been accused of back-room maneuvering to affect the outcome of the election.

It took Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Rushworth to rule that the three candidates did not meet the charter's standards. Unlike the board, Judge Rushworth is perceived as an impartial arbiter. No one has tried to impute political motives to his decision, which would have been the case had the board reached a similar conclusion.

The same is true when the board was asked to rule on a question about Alderman Carl O. Snowden's residency.

Had it initiated an investigation, the board would have been charged with sabotaging Mr. Snowden's bid for the Democratic nomination for mayor. Instead, it unquestioningly accepted the alderman's assertion he lives in the area he represents, Ward 5.

If the public wants this administrative board to exercise greater power and take decisive action, it must be revamped as a deliberative body with the power to gather and weigh evidence. There does not seem to be any groundswell for such a change, however. As constituted, expect the board to continue to take a pass on all difficult matters presented to it.

Pub Date: 9/08/97

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