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May 16, 2011

The Group of Eight

Michael Kurtianyk

Let me get this straight: eight petitioners, and those behind them, who brought them together, had 60 days to come up with two thousand valid signatures to force a special election for the Frederick County Charter Writing Committee. This comes out to each petitioner obtaining only nine (4/5!) valid signatures each day (60!).


The Group of Eight didn’t accomplish their goal. The petitioners were 259 signatures short of the minimum required by state law. The math on this is ridiculously low. How can eight petitioners only collect 1,741 valid signatures?


The petitioners collected 2,915 signatures on 364 pages. Of those, only 1,741 were deemed valid by the Frederick County Board of Elections. Here is the breakdown as to why 1,174 were invalid, according to Stuart Harvey, county election director:







In order for a petition to be valid, the signatures must be on pages which contain a reference to the Maryland Constitution, Article XI-A, Section 1A. That reference is required by state regulations a statement of whether the petition is brought under that part of the state constitution is required. Over 70 pages of signatures did not contain that specific language.


Furthermore, some signatures were not validated because they failed to meet the criteria set forth by Maryland Election Law Section 6-204:


(a)   Each signature page shall contain an affidavit made and executed by the individual in whose presence all of the signatures on that page were affixed and who observed each of those signatures being affixed.


(b)   The affidavit shall contain the statements, required by regulation, designed to assure the validity of the signatures and the fairness of the petition process.


(c)   A circulator must be at least 18 years old at the time any of the signatures covered by the affidavit are affixed.


How could this happen? How could the Group of Eight not follow proper procedures from the beginning? Is it because, as I’ve been told, that rather than going first to the Frederick County Board of Elections, the Group of Eight, and those behind them, didn’t bother to ask the local authorities? Someone from the Group of Eight should have reviewed proper procedures with the staff at Winchester Hall’s Board of Elections.


This lack of organization is a reflection of the Group of Eight and those behind them. Some of them ran for elected office in recent years. Some even held office. They should have known better. More likely, as some have suggested, this was another example of the elitist attitude by the Group of Eight – the idea that they knew better than everyone else.


This was further evidenced by the Group of Eight’s contention that what they could bring to the charter-writing committee is better than what the appointed committee could: diversity. When pressed, the only thing the Group of Eight said they’d offer was fewer development-oriented people, and add more women. Maybe this is why the group failed in their efforts: a lack of messaging on why people should sign the petition, along with their lack of effort.


So, rather than have a special election, at an estimated taxpayer cost of $250,000, the Group of Eight needs to figure out what they do next. Among their options:


Participate in the charter-writing public meetings in a positive, non-adversarial manner.


File an appeal.


Do nothing.


The hope, of course, is that the Group of Eight will perform the first option and participate with the appointed board, but that remains to be seen. It depends on what they, and their backers, want out of this.


The bottom line is that the Group of Eight should have followed proper procedures and obtained enough signatures, but they didn’t.


It is time to move on.



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