Statewide ballot questions

The marquee at St. Mark Catholic Church on Fallston foreshadows one of the hottest statewide issues on next month's general election ballot: Same-sex marriage. (PHOTO BY ALLAN VOUGHT | AEGIS STAFF / October 8, 2012)

Voters in Harford County will have more decisions to make come November other than whom to elect for President and to represent the First and Second congressional districts.

A recent event at Harford Community College sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Harford County, the Harford County Branch of the American Association of University Women and the Political Awareness Association of Harford Community College, Know Your Vote offered residents a look at the seven state ballot questions voters will face Nov. 6.

"These are questions that have originated in the [Maryland] General Assembly," explained Dr. Stephanie Hallock, associate professor of political science at HCC, at the Sept. 27 forum. "Now it's going to the voters to answer the issue."

The three most heated questions that night were, not surprisingly, the "Dream Act," same sex marriage and Question 7, which, if passed, would give casinos throughout the state table games and put a casino in Prince George's County.


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Dream Act

If approved by a majority voters, Question 4 would establish that "individuals, including undocumented immigrants, are eligible to pay in-state tuition rates at community colleges in Maryland, provided the student meets certain conditions relating to attendance and graduation from a Maryland high school, filing of income taxes, intent to apply for permanent residency and registration with the selective service system (if required)."

It would also include eligibility to pay in-state tuition rates at a four-year public college or university, again, if the student meets certain criteria.

Abingdon resident Vicki Seitzinger asked Hallock if the law would mean that the parent or guardian of the student in question would only have to file their income tax return, but not necessarily pay it.

"It's an important distinction to have," she said.

Hallock responded that Seitzinger's question was better suited for an attorney, but the ballot language specifies filing the tax return.

Same sex marriage

The civil marriage protection act, if passed, would stipulate that "Maryland's civil marriage laws allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from marrying; protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious belief; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services or benefits to an individual related to the celebration of promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs."

Basically, Hallock said, "religious entities retain exclusive control over their faith, teachings and doctrines" and won't be required to marry anyone they don't want to marry.

Seitzinger said she felt the wording of "certain related entities" was "fairly vague" and asked what all that entailed.

Hallock said it was organizations tied to a religion, so most likely a hospital or school, for instance.

If a religious justice of the peace were in a position to marry a couple he or she didn't approve the union of, Seitzinger asked, would the justice have to conduct the ceremony or face legal consequences?

Harford County State Sen. Jacobs said she was on a legislative committee that heard this particular legislation and it was said that if a facility that holds receptions, a justice of the peace or court commissioner refuses to do so for a same-sex couple, those entities can be fined for doing so. Jacobs attended the forum as a candidate for the Second Congressional District.

Gambling expansion

Question 7, if approved, would expand commercial gaming in the state by authorizing table games, increasing the maximum number of video lottery terminals and allowing a sixth casino in Prince George's County.

The ballot language states the primary purpose of the expansion is to raise revenue for education.

In addition, casinos would be able to operate 24 hours a day seven days a week and casino operators may own more than one facility.

One man asked, "Does casino money have to go to education?"

Jacobs offered her insight and said there have been instances in the past, such as raising the alcohol tax, that the primary purpose of moneymaking issue doesn't necessarily get the majority of revenue. She said only 15 percent of revenue from the alcohol tax went to people with disabilities, which, she felt, was "kind of a bait and switch, in a way."

Harford County Councilman Dion Guthrie agreed with Jacobs that "that's the problem" with the language — a percentage of revenue going to education isn't defined in the legislation.

The issue would only pass if both the majority of Prince George's County voters and those in the rest of the state approve it.

Removal of officials

Question 3 is about the suspension and removal of elected officials in the state.

The ballot language states that to vote in favor of the issue "changes the point at which an elected official who has been charged with certain crimes is automatically suspended or removed from office."

As the law currently stands, an elected official who is convicted or pleads no contest to a crime is suspended and removed only when the conviction becomes final.

"Under the amended law," the language continues, "an elected official is suspended when found guilty and is removed when the conviction becomes final or when the elected official pleads guilty or not contest."

Redistricting

The congressional redistricting plan passed last year by the Maryland General Assembly could be changed yet again if the majority of voters choose "no" for Question 5, which establishes "the boundaries for the state's eight United States congressional districts based on recent census figures," according to ballot language.

Hallock explained that the state is currently working under the new district map, but because "enough resident filed a petition to push this to the voters to decide," it is therefore part of the November ballot.

Voting "yes," Hallock continued, means the current map will remain. A vote against the question will mean the map would no longer be in effect. Because the 2010 census showed a population change in the state since the last map in 2002 was drawn, the 2002 map would no longer be valid and the General Assembly would have to go through the same process to draw up a new map.

The issue in this, however, is this process could result in a very similar outcome. Furthermore, the representatives elected in this upcoming election would serve a full two-year term in the districts currently defined.

Seitzinger, again, asked Hallock if the issue was voted down if the new map that is created would be substantially different.

As long as the legislative process is followed, she responded, it doesn't have to be very different.

"It doesn't mean it's going to be dramatically different," chimed in Jacobs. She added that nothing has to be redrawn completely and the map would be simply altered.

Orphans court judges

One statewide ballot question not affecting Harford County concerns qualifications for Prince George's Orphans' Court judges, as well as those in Baltimore County.

If approved by both a majority of voters in the affected counties and in the rest of the state, the law would require Orphans Court judges in those counties "to be admitted to practice law in this state and to be a member in good standing of the Maryland bar," according to the legislative language.