Annapolis free bus ride is postponed

Promotion delayed to avoid appearance of incentive to vote

November 06, 2001|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

The Annapolis Department of Transportation postponed a free bus ride promotion scheduled for today after concerns were raised that it might appear to be an illegal incentive for people to go to the polls.

The promotion - which would have given free rides and a Maryland State Lottery ticket to anyone who rode a city bus - was canned yesterday after press inquiries into its legality.

Transportation Department Director Danielle Matland said the election and the free bus ride day were "independent activities occurring at the same time." But she said the city decided to cancel the program to "avoid the appearance of impropriety."

City Attorney Paul Goetzke said city code prohibits offering people incentives to vote. But he said he does not believe the Department of Transportation's program would have violated the law.

Matland called allegations of impropriety "absurd," noting that there are two polling places in each of the city's eight wards and that buses do not stop at all of them.

"You wouldn't ride a bus to get to the polls," Matland said. "For most people, it would probably be further to get to a bus stop."

Election Board Chairman Richard E. Israel said he was concerned about the promotion because fliers advertising the free rides mentioned that they would be offered on Election Day. They did not suggest taking a bus to the polls, he said.

"Since the leaflet referred to Election Day and free lottery tickets, there could be a perception that you are rewarded if you vote," he said.

After discussing the promotion with Goetzke and Israel yesterday, Matland postponed it.

The promotion was originally part of the city's Try Transit Week activities in September. Free rides were to be given the day of the primary election, Sept. 11, but the program was postponed after the terrorist attacks that day, though the polls remained open.

When the department rescheduled the event, it decided to do it on the day of the general election. Matland said officials thought they would be able to remind people that it was Election Day while advertising the free bus rides.

Lottery tickets had been offered for the past several years whenever the Transportation Department offered free rides, Matland said.

Israel said the free lottery ticket offer bothered him the most.

When Alderman Louise Hammond heard of the promotion and the free lottery tickets, she called the mayor's office, the Transportation Department and the city's election office to express concern.

"It smacks of paying people to vote," Hammond said. "That's not the kind of marketing we want in this city."

The Transportation Department will reschedule the promotion again, Matland said.

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