The League of Women Voters in Baltimore has turned in 11,000 signatures to city elections officials, backing its call for a November referendum that could cut the size of the City Council in half.
The civic group needs 10,000 valid voter signatures to have the measure placed on the Nov. 7 presidential election ballot. Baltimore Board of Elections officials have begun verifying the names submitted last week and are required to complete the tally by Aug. 30.
Because some names will likely be disqualified as unregistered voters and the deadline to get signatures has now passed, Baltimore elections director Barbara E. Jackson predicted that every valid signature will be critical to meeting the 10,000-name requirement.
"It's going to be very close," Jackson said.
The league began the effort in May, proposing that the 19-member City Council be reduced to nine single-member districts. Six three-member council districts and a council president have existed in Baltimore since 1967.
Council members opposing the measure contend that cutting the council to resemble the elected bodies in the state's three largest counties - Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore - would impair constituent services. Baltimore houses half the state's poor and a lion's share of its senior citizens.
League officials, however, argue that reducing the size of the council would make the city's elected legislators more accountable, while saving the cash-strapped city government $1 million in salaries. In December, council members voted themselves an $11,000 pay raise to $48,000 a year.
City Council President Sheila Dixon recently announced that whatever the outcome of the league's referendum push, she plans to form a special committee to explore cutting the size of council. Carl Stokes, a former city councilman, school board member and mayoral candidate, is expected to lead the committee.
Two similar drives to establish 18 single-member Baltimore council districts failed in 1984 and again in 1991, when the referendum was voted down by 8,000 votes.