City delegates reject bill to align elections

Nov. ballot will ask voters to change timing of votes

General Assembly

March 20, 2004|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Baltimore legislators killed a proposal yesterday that would have aligned the city's municipal elections with state races, leaving city voters to decide the future of their local elections through a referendum on the November ballot.

The city's House delegation voted 9 to 8 to reject a bill sponsored by Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks, who had hoped to fix an embarrassing 14-month gap between the municipal primary and general elections.

The legislation also would have saved the city at least $1 million in costs that result from holding its local election separate from the state election - the only major Maryland jurisdiction to do so.

The change also would have restricted Mayor Martin O'Malley's political options. If the city held its elections in the same year as statewide races, O'Malley would have to choose between a run for re-election or for governor - the way a democracy should operate, some lawmakers said.

"We revert back to the days of the king rules," Oaks, a Northwest Baltimore Democrat, said after yesterday's vote. "O'Malley is the king.

"The most disturbing thing is ... the city's finances," he said. "I proposed a way to save about $1.2 million."

Oaks' legislation would have trumped a November ballot question initiated by the City Council to close the 14-month gap between the primary and general elections. The council's question asks voters to restore the municipal elections to the cycle it operated on for decades.

"The people of Baltimore will decide," said Deputy Mayor Jeanne Hitchcock, who is the mayor's point person on issues in Annapolis. Under the council's proposal, the city races would return to the odd year between the gubernatorial and presidential elections.

In 1999, the council put a measure before voters to move the city's elections to the same year as presidential races, beginning this year. Under state law, however, the voters could decide only the date of the general election. The dates of primaries in Maryland are set by the legislature and signed into law by the governor.

When the question was put on the ballot, it was assumed that the state would move the city primary to the same year as the general election approved by the voters. But Annapolis never made the change. For four straight General Assembly sessions, election-date legislation fell victim to political wrangling.

So Baltimore voters went to the polls last September for the city primary and will return this November for the general election. The gap created a lengthy lame-duck period for outgoing officials, upset community groups and left many voters baffled.

In addition to forcing O'Malley and others to choose between a run for city or state office, Oaks' proposal would have shortened the term of the city's current officials to two years. Oaks said he believes that would have been fair because the officials served a five-year term under the first change.

Del. Salima S. Marriott, chairwoman of the city House delegation, said she believes a two-year term is too short for council members.

Assembly action

ISABEL: An emergency measure to provide low-interest loans to rehabilitate or renovate primary residences damaged by Tropical Storm Isabel passed the Senate yesterday. It has already passed the House and now awaits action by the governor.

ABUSE: A bill that would have required clergy members to report child abuse and neglect died Thursday in the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee. Lawmakers voted it down in a 4-to-7 vote.

IDENTITY THEFT: Judicial Proceedings also rejected legislation that would have created a task force to study identity theft.

VOTING MACHINES: The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee yesterday approved and sent to the full Senate a bill that would require Maryland to add printers capable of printing out every ballot cast in the November election, so that voters could verify their vote before leaving the polling place.

IMMIGRANTS: The House Economic Matters committee killed a bill that sparked a confrontation among lawmakers and lobbyists after a hearing Thursday. The bill would have established a task force to study the economic impact of illegal immigrants. Two of the sponsors, Dels. Patrick L. McDonough and Richard K. Impallaria of Baltimore County traded words and - according to witnesses - at least one shove with immigration-rights advocates.

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