Voters should reject city election change

Question L: Moving municipal elections to presidential years would lessen attention to Baltimore issues.

October 27, 1999

QUESTION L on the Nov. 2 ballot in Baltimore is a misguided attempt to move municipal elections to presidential election years. Voters should reject it as a change that would give even less public attention to critical issues facing the city.

When the current voting practice was introduced in 1898, officials believed electing the mayor, City Council and its president and comptroller independently would "separate municipal affairs from the influence of the political issues that are necessarily involved in state and federal elections."

That was sound thinking 101 years ago. It still is today. Baltimore's elections are too important to be relegated to a sideshow in a campaign for president, U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.

In technical terms, too, Question L is seriously flawed. It is being promoted as a cost-saving measure. To a degree, that's true. It would eliminate the separate municipal elections. But because Maryland is part of the Super Tuesday of presidential primaries in March, the charter amendment calls for a separate primary to be held in September for city offices.

Confusing? Costly? You bet.

And unless the General Assembly approves such a separate city primary, the whole charter amendment, even if approved by voters, could end in legal limbo.

That complication could have been avoided had the charter amendment sought to make city elections coincide with the election of governor and other state officials. That might have made sense in Baltimore. That's how the metropolitan counties coordinate their elections.

But such a straightforward arrangement failed to win support in the City Council. The reason: Incumbents did not want to lose their chance to run risk free in separate state elections without having to surrender their city office.

Baltimore City voters should squash Question L. It is a bad piece of turf protection masquerading as a reform measure.

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