Referendum Petition for Special Election Fails in Frederick County-Petitioners To Challenge Decision in Court

A petition drive for a special election to establish an elected board to write the charter that would change Frederick County’s form of government has failed, as petitioners fell 259 signatures short.  At least 2,000 valid signatures were needed to force the election and according to Elections Director Stu Harvey, 2,915 signatures were collected but only 1,741 were valid.  See previous  Conduit Street coverage  on this issue.  According to a story published in the Gazette,

Of the signatures collected, 584 were signed incorrectly, Harvey said. Another 217 were rejected because petitioners failed to date and verify each page of the petition; 187 were not registered voters in Maryland; and 148 were not on a correct petition format. The remaining 38 were either a duplicate, had signature or date issues, or had an invalid address, according to Harvey.

Under state law, the individual signing the petition must print and sign his or her name. Either one or the other, or a combination of the two, must match  the voter’s registration card in order to be valid.   Based on this restriction, the petitioners plan to challenge the Board of Elections’ decision in court.  Past County Commissioner and attorney, John L. Thompson is arguing their case, pro bono.   According to today’s Frederick News Post, Thompson said the standards are too strict.

“They cannot be unduly burdensome to the constitutional right to petition,” said Thompson.

Several cases support his position, Thompson said, but none of them has dealt specifically with a petition for an elected charter board.

“This is sort of fresh ground,” he said.

His reasoning is that the state constitution refers to the requirement to have a petition signer’s signature in addition to printed name, but says nothing about middle initials. Administrative regulations and interpretations added those requirements, he said.

Illegible signatures and missing initials have caused otherwise recognizable registered voters to be disqualified on petitions, Thompson said. The legibility standard has been found too restrictive in some cases, he said.

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