Baltimore council members denounce effort to change municipal elections

Senate president's plan called `highly offensive'

April 08, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Four Baltimore City Council members went to Annapolis yesterday to denounce an effort by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller to move municipal elections to coincide with gubernatorial balloting.

Miller's proposal is "highly offensive" and a violation of Baltimore's home rule, Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. told the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee. He was joined by council members and fellow Democrats Robert W. Curran, Lois A. Garey and Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

Although Miller's bill passed the Senate easily, it is given almost no chance of passing the House, where the city delegation has declined to support it.

The Senate president said yesterday that he expects the bill to be defeated this year. But he appeared before the committee to give a spirited defense of the idea.

"It's designed to create more enthusiasm, to put more people in the polling places," the Prince George's County Democrat said.

Miller and the council members agreed that moving city elections from their odd-year election cycle would increase turnout. But the council members said they have passed and the mayor has signed a bill enacting a better idea: holding city elections in presidential election years.

"We commend Senator Miller for trying to double our turnout in elections. We would like to triple our turnout," said Curran.

He listed figures showing that 72,000 voters cast ballots in the 1995 municipal election, compared with 159,000 in the 1998 gubernatorial election and 247,000 in the 1992 presidential election. In 1996, a low-turnout year for a presidential election, 184,000 Baltimoreans voted.

Miller said a presidential-year vote would require the city to hold its primary in March -- leaving a long lame-duck period -- or hold a second primary in September. He noted that holding a second primary would cancel one of the objectives of his proposal -- to save money by consolidating city and statewide elections.

Under Miller's proposal, city officials would be elected in this year's municipal balloting to a three-year term, during the transition period to the 2002 elections. The council-passed bill would make the next term five years so that the subsequent city elections could occur in 2004.

From a political standpoint, Miller's proposal would stand to benefit Democrats in statewide contests by increasing turnout in the heavily Democratic city. Most Maryland counties hold their elections in gubernatorial years.

The Senate president said City Council members were reluctant to run in statewide election years because of political considerations.

"They don't want to be running with senators and delegates. That's a fact of life," Miller said, noting that city officials have been able to run for state office without the risk of losing their existing elective jobs.

Pub Date: 4/08/99

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