Howard group appeals Board of Elections decision to deny petition

A group of Howard County citizens whose attempts to bring components of a comprehensive zoning bill to referendum were denied by the county Board of Elections in November have filed two appeals contesting the decision, the group's leader said. 

Lisa Markovitz, chairwoman of the Citizens Working to Fix Howard County, said the group's lawyer had filed a petition for judicial review and a declaratory judgment action with the local circuit court late last week. 

The group's members had collected more than the 5,390 signatures necessary to bring a referendum to the general election ballot in November 2014. They are opposed to a little more than a dozen decisions in the county's comprehensive zoning bill, a hefty once-a-decade piece of legislation that was passed by the County Council in July.

The group is seeking to place 14 issues on the ballot for voters to decide, including zoning provisions for the Maple Lawn South development in Fulton, Shipley's Grant in Ellicott City, the Highland Business area and the Rosa Bonheur pet and human cemetery along Route 1 in Elkridge. 

On Nov. 26, Board of Elections Director Guy Mickley announced that while the petitioners had gathered enough signatures, the petition's language did not contain a "fair and accurate summary of the substantive provisions of the proposal," one of the requirements under Maryland election law for a referendum question to be placed on the ballot.

Susan Gray, the attorney representing Citizens Working to Fix Howard County, said Wednesday that the group is using every recourse possible to attempt to get the petition, which they say was clear and followed all the guidelines, approved. 

A petition for judicial review is the standard method of appealing a decision made by the Board of Elections or any administrative body. 

The other appeal, a motion for declaratory judgment, questions the legal right of the BOE to have made the decision it did and can be filed by anyone. 

Gray said the group wanted the Board to explain what, in particular, about the petition's language was not "fair and accurate." 

"They could say the moon is made of green cheese, and that's as much as we know about this," she said of the Board's justifications for the decision. 

Both appeals will go to circuit court and are expected to be expedited due to the time-sensitive nature of the case, now that the election is less than a year away. 

Gray said the group is also requesting that a judge from outside the county rule on the case. 

Markovitz said the decision could have an impact on the outcome of future referendum petitions in the county. 

"Why even give the right to referendum in this county if no one's going to be able to actually do it?" she said. 

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