Baltimore County

Baltimore County voters approve public campaign financing

After delays in tabulating Election Day votes, it’s official: Baltimore County voters have approved a ballot question supporting public financing for candidates seeking county office.

Results showed 55.7% of Baltimore County constituents voted in favor of amending the county’s charter, authorizing public financing for local political candidates and creating a citizens' election fund that will match small donations that candidates for the Baltimore County Council and county executive may choose to use starting in 2026.

Vote tallies were delayed last week because of a hold up in transferring voting data from the county’s voting centers, said Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator of elections for the state.

Only provisional ballots are yet to be counted in Baltimore County. Katie Brown, the county’s elections director, has not responded to emails requesting the number of outstanding ballots.

The ballot question was approved by a margin of more than 29,700 votes.

“The volume of one’s voice should never be dependent on the size of their pockets,” County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr. said in a statement Tuesday morning, one week after Election Day.

“With this fair election fund we will help empower a more diverse field of candidates, create a more level playing field, and reduce the influence of special interests in elections for generations to come,” he said.

Proponents of the ballot question released a statement last week calling its apparent approval by voters “a monumental step forward toward more inclusive, fair, and representative campaigns in Baltimore County.”

Emily Scarr, director of Maryland PIRG, which advocated for county voters to approve public financing, said that despite the yet-to-be-counted ballots, she was confident the results would not flip.

"This program will enable community leaders, especially those who are young and from underrepresented groups, the ability to run true grassroots campaigns,” said Samay Kindra, an Owings Mills resident who chairs the ballot committee for the Question A campaign, in a statement.

“The Citizens' Election Fund will give communities a greater voice in elections, which is something we need now more than ever," Kindra said.

The county joins several other jurisdictions, like Montgomery and Howard counties and Baltimore City, that already offer or plan to offer public campaign financing. Proponents say the move levels the political playing field by mitigating an economic barrier they say keeps less affluent would-be candidates from running — thus encouraging a wider talent pool.

Advocates also say the bill — Baltimore County Executive Olszewski Jr.'s first major piece of legislation proposed after taking office, and put on the ballot by a 5-2 County Council vote — will limit the influence of special interests on campaigns.

In Baltimore County, for example, there is a perception that developers, who generally contribute large sums to candidates, have more political leverage when it comes to County Council legislation.

Members of the County Council have taken issue with the idea that they are influenced by campaign contributions.

Some details of the program, like the specific funding source, still are being hashed out. Generally, citizens' election funds will match small individual donations to a candidate, and in turn that candidate often pledges not to accept money from corporate donors.

But those who oppose public financing take issue with taxpayer-funded political campaigns. Democratic County Councilman Julian Jones, who voted against including the question on the ballot, has said the estimated $4.3 million cost of the election fund in each election cycle could be put to other uses.

Maryland, through state legislation passed in 2013, enabled counties to set up public campaign financing for local races. Baltimore City will begin public financing in 2024 after 75% of voters supported public campaign financing in 2018.

Also on this year’s ballot, questions B-J asked voters to allow Baltimore County to borrow money to fund various capital projects, including parks and greenways, community college projects and schools.

The following ballot questions have passed:

  • Question B, authorizing county government to borrow $54.99 million to pay for streets, bridges and storm drainage improvements.
  • Question C, allowing the borrowing of $15 million for building and renovating refuse disposal facilities.
  • Question D, allowing the county to borrow $46 million for public buildings, including detention centers, firehouses, police stations, libraries and senior centers.
  • Question E, authorizing the county to borrow $35 million for recreation and parks projects.
  • Question F, allowing the borrowing of $17.5 million for community college projects.
  • Question G, allowing county government to borrow $200 million for school construction, repairs and renovations.
  • Question H, authorizing the county to borrow up to $4 million for land preservation projects.
  • Question I, allowing the county to borrow $2.5 million for community improvement projects like street repairs and sidewalk improvements.
  • Question J, authorizing the county to borrow up to $20 million for waterway and stormwater infrastructure improvement projects.

This story will be updated.

Taylor DeVille

Taylor DeVille

Taylor DeVille covers Baltimore County government for The Baltimore Sun. A 2017 Towson University graduate, she previously covered the Towson, Catonsville and Arbutus areas for Baltimore Sun Media and prior to that was a staff writer at The Enterprise in St. Mary's County.