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Term limits extension rejected by narrow vote in Prince George's County

Prince George's County term limits extension rejected

In an election marked statewide by uncertain races and Republican upsets, Prince George's County remained solidly blue. But there was still at least one close race on the ballot: the debate over term limits.

Prince George's County voters last week narrowly rejected a ballot question that would have extended the number of consecutive term limits the county's elected officials can serve.

Currently, a person elected to the County Council or as county executive may serve two four-year terms in a row. The charter amendment, Question J, would have made three terms, for a total of 12 years, possible.

The vote was the closest of the 10 local questions on the Prince George's ballot. Voters endorsed the other nine, all relatively uncontroversial, by at least 74 percent.

Term limits, however, were rejected by a margin of 51 to 49.

Proponents of the extension, a group that included County Executive Rushern Baker III and other elected officials, had argued that longer term limits would help boost the status of Prince George's among neighboring counties that do not have term limits, such as Montgomery County. In Howard County, executives can serve two terms and councilmembers are limited to three.

The ballot measure was proposed by the Prince George's County Council after being recommended by the county's Charter Review Commission. In its report, the group argued the limits put the county at a strategic disadvantage and should eventually be eliminated altogether.

In October, Laurel City Councilwoman Donna Crary, who also sits on the county's Democratic Central Committee, said she thought extending term limits would give lawmakers a valuable opportunity to develop experience that could serve Prince George's and its constituents on boards like the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

"Getting a handle on the budget and your own work right in front of your desk takes a minute," Crary said. The City Council would not have been affected by the term limit extension.

But Shabnam Ahmed, a University of Maryland sophomore and proponent of term limits, breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the results Nov. 5.

Ahmed, 19, created a website, NoThreeTerms.com, to get the word out about the term limits debate. On Nov. 4, she went out to the polls to talk to voters about Question J.

She said she got a mostly positive response from voters, many of whom were unsure about the ballot question.

"A lot of constituents didn't know what it was," she said, "but when they did realize what it was, they said, 'We don't want an experienced politician, we don't want someone in office for 12 years.' "

Ahmed, a Bowie resident, blames some of the confusion on a sample ballot distributed by the county's Democratic Central Committee that instructed voters to check "for" on Question J, without explaining what they were voting for.

The Democrats' sample ballot was the subject of heated debate at a pre-election central committee meeting in September, where committee members broke off into factions of those who supported including the term limits question on the sample ballot and those who did not.

"The reason why I think the margin was so close was because voters didn't know," said Ahmed, whose father, Shukoor Ahmed, this year ran unsuccessfully for a delegate seat in District 23A as an independent against incumbent Democrat Geraldine Valentino-Smith. "A lot of times they aren't informed, and they do get caught up in the political propaganda."

This isn't the first time term limits have been on the ballot; the issue has come up twice in the past two decades. Term limits were first imposed in 1992 as the result of a citizen-led effort, while in 2000, the County Council attempted to eliminate them entirely, an effort that was rejected by voters.

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