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May 19, 2011

Success Follows Playing by the Rules

Amanda Haddaway

The failure of the petition drive to overturn the current charter writing board and force a special election was announced last Friday, but the petitioners may not be done yet.


Ex-County Commissioner Kai Hagen, one of the community activists circulating the petition, turned to social media after the announcement and posted the following comment on the Envision Frederick County’s Facebook page:


“It is virtually certain that the number of actual registered voters who provided "sufficient cumulative information on the face of the petition" to determine the identity of the registered voter signing the petition is substantially more than the 2,000 signatures required.


“And, though there will be no way to know until Monday (since the denial came out late on a Friday), it is also likely that more than enough signatures to make the difference were rejected solely due to the lack of a middle initial.


“In my opinion, legally registered voters in Frederick County, or Maryland, should not have their right to petition denied after printing their full first and last name, including their correct address, the date, their birthdate [sic] and their legal signature.


“It remains to be seen precisely why many signatures were rejected, and how things will proceed from here, but a judicial review of the invalidation of many of the signatures on the "Charter Board Nomination Petition" would be a genuine service to the people of the state of Maryland.”


The “judicial review” that Mr. Hagen speaks of is outlined in Maryland Code section 6-209. The law would allow for an aggrieved person to seek a review by the Frederick County Circuit Court. At this time, there is no way to determine what cost the county or state would incur for such a review, but it goes without saying that it won’t be free for the taxpayers.


Although Mr. Hagen seems to be familiar with his rights under the provisions of section 6-209, he and fellow petitioners should have reviewed section 6-202 on advance determinations. This section states:


“(a) In general.- The format of the petition prepared by a sponsor may be submitted to the chief election official of the appropriate election authority, in advance of filing the petition, for a determination of its sufficiency.


“(b) Advice of legal authority.- In making the determination, the chief election official may seek the advice of the legal authority.”


At no time did the petitioners contact the Frederick County Board of Elections for an advance determination. It also appears that they did not familiarize themselves with state election law that governs this process. If they had done their proper due diligence, Mr. Hagen and others would have realized that the law clearly outlines what is necessary for a signature to count. In fact, section 6-203 states:


“(a) In general.- To sign a petition, an individual shall:


“(1) sign the individual's name as it appears on the statewide voter registration list or the individual's surname of registration and at least one full given name and the initials of any other names; and


“(2) include the following information, printed or typed, in the spaces provided:


“(i) the signer's name as it was signed;


“(ii) the signer's address;


“(iii) the date of signing; and


“(iv) other information required by regulations adopted by the State Board.


“(b) Validation and counting.- The signature of an individual shall be validated and counted if:


“(1) the requirements of subsection (a) of this section have been satisfied;


“(2) the individual is a registered voter assigned to the county specified on the signature page and, if applicable, in a particular geographic area of the county;


“(3) the individual has not previously signed the same petition;


“(4) the signature is attested by an affidavit appearing on the page on which the signature appears;


(5) the date accompanying the signature is not later than the date of the affidavit on the page; and


“(6) if applicable, the signature was affixed within the requisite period of time, as specified by law.”


It’s time for the petitioners to accept defeat on this effort and allow Frederick County to move forward. The charter board has already taken great steps toward engaging the public in a dialogue about this important topic and would welcome the petitioners to participate in the process by attending their meetings.


Although judicial review is permissible under the law, there’s simply no good reason to complicate the process further. We have a qualified and capable charter writing board in place. Let’s allow them to do their work and then decide via regular election whether or not charter is the right answer for Frederick County.


[Editor’s Note: After Ms. Haddaway submitted this column, the petitioners announced plans to ask the Frederick County Circuit Court to review the decision by the Elections Board of Frederick County that rejected more than 1,000 of the signatures on the circulated petition. Former County Commissioner John L. “Lennie” Thompson is offering his services as a lawyer to the petitioners on a pro-bono basis. Also, see Michael Kurtianyk’s column at which details the reasons for the rejection of certain of the petitions submitted. That column appeared on Monday, May 16, 2010.]


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