An ordinance that makes multiple changes to the Town of Bel Air’s election laws, including shifting the candidate filing deadline from 30 days to 45 days before the election, was approved by the town commissioners.

Ordinance 793-19 was subject to a public hearing before the vote, but no one from the public commented, according to town officials. The ordinance was approved 4-0 Monday, as Commissioner Amy Chmielewski was absent. The legislation takes effect 21 days after being passed, according to Michael Krantz, the town’s director of administration and human resources, but won’t affect this year’s election filing deadlines.

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Town staff recommended the changes in order to “remove or update outdated language” from current regulations, as well as “provide enhanced clarity, and align definitions, procedures, and equipment references with the new voting equipment being utilized by the State Board of Elections,” according to background information included with the ordinance.

A primary reason for the changes is the current use of paper ballots, which are fed through a scanner after voters fill them out, according to Krantz. Those state-approved paper ballots and scanners, which are also used in countywide elections, have been used in municipal elections since 2017 and will be employed in Bel Air “going forward,” Krantz said Tuesday.

The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation in 2007 requiring local elections offices to provide a “voter-verifiable paper record voting system,” rather than touchscreen ballots. Funding to make the change was not available until 2014, however, and paper ballots were used statewide during the 2016 presidential election, according to the ordinance.

The Town of Bel Air, which holds its elections during odd-numbered years, used electronic ballots in 2015 and switched to paper ballots in 2017, according to Krantz.

“The [town] code had many references to the old system that’s no longer used ... it was definitely time to get the regulation updated,” he said.

The candidate-filing period change will be in effect for Bel Air’s next municipal election in 2021, according to the ordinance. Filing for this year’s election is underway, and the deadline is 7 p.m. on Oct. 4, one month before the Nov. 5 election.

Three of five seats on the Board of Town Commissioners are contested in this year’s race. Those three seats are held by Commissioners Phil Einhorn, Brendan Hopkins and Susan Burdette.

Burdette is the current chair of the town commission, which comes with the honorary title of mayor. She has announced that she will not seek re-election this year, after having served on the town board since 2011 and as chair since 2015.

Seven people, including Kevin Bianca, Daniel Gray, Erin Hughes, Donna Kahoe, William Kelly, Michael Kutcher and James Lockard, have filed as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the Town of Bel Air website.

Krantz, who is also the town clerk, coordinates and facilitates the election process, working with the town’s Board of Election Judges and the Harford County Board of Elections.

Krantz must submit a final list of candidates to the county board of elections, which he said is “an important partner for us.” The county office then creates a ballot, and Krantz makes it available to Bel Air residents. He said sharing the ballot ahead of the election is “especially important” for voters when there is a question or referendum, but he does not expect that to be the case this year, just an election for the commissioners’ seats.

Krantz said the adjustment of the filing deadline from 30 to 45 days gives town staff “a little more leeway” because an official ballot must also be submitted 30 days before the election.

“That why I’m trying to add a little bit of extra time in the candidate filing deadline,” he said.

More information about the 2019 Bel Air election is available on the town website, https://www.belairmd.org/536/Election-2019. The deadline to register to vote is 5 p.m. on Oct. 15; applications can be obtained at the Harford County Board of Elections office in Forest Hill, Bel Air Town Hall, the Maryland MVA office in Bel Air or online via https://harfordvotes.info. People can also call 410-638-3565 for more information.

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