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Howard voters to see referendum questions in November on redistricting commission, discrimination, citizen boards

Howard voters will see three county referendum questions on their ballots for the general election in November.

Earlier this month, the County Council approved two ballot questions, rejected eight and tabled two. In its last legislative vote of the session Wednesday, the council revisited the two tabled questions and approved adding a third to the ballot.

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The three questions Howard County voters will see this fall include: whether to shorten the terms of citizen boards from five years to three, whether to widen the range of enshrined discrimination protections in the county charter and whether to change the appointment dates for the Councilmanic Redistricting Commission.

Howard voters will see the three countywide questions as well as two statewide questions: approving sports and events wagering at certain licensed facilities and authorizing the Maryland General Assembly to adjust the state budget as long as the measures do not exceed the total proposed budget submitted by the governor.

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The first county ballot question will offer to shorten the appointment terms for citizen boards from five years to three. This recommendation aims to create more engagement in local government within the county, according to Council member Opel Jones who developed the measure with member Christiana Mercer Rigby.

The second question Howard voters will decide would add several anti-discriminatory clauses to the county charter for the first time since the 1960s when the charter was created, according to Rigby.

The third question proposes changing the dates for the council to appoint members to the Councilmanic Redistricting Commission. The dates currently listed in the charter are from the time when Maryland had a September primary; since the state now votes in June for its primary, the recommendation looks to align dates for the appointments with state mandates.

The questions will be put before voters on Nov. 3 as amendments to the charter, the set of laws that make up the foundation of the county’s system of government. The questions were among those developed by the County Council or put forth by the county’s Charter Review Commission, a 15-member group that reviews the document every eight years and makes modification recommendations to the council.

“Now this process is in the hands of the voters this November. I encourage all Howard County residents to learn about these referendum items and what they mean to the future of the county prior to election day,” commission Chair Yolanda Sonnier said Wednesday. More information about the referendum items can be found on the commission’s website.

Howard County Board of Elections Director Guy Mickley, who testified during some of the hearings surrounding the referendum questions, is hoping now that the county has identified the referendum question that all five questions will fit onto one ballot page.

“It has to be written so that everyone in the world is able to understand what they’re saying, which I believe will make the questions a little bit longer,” Mickley said.

Though it has been done before, Mickley said, a second ballot page would cost twice as much and make the voting process longer as well in a year where he’s already short election judges.

“A second page would slow the entire process down, but we will deal with it,” he said. “[It is] 100% more cumbersome because you have 100% more ballots.”

The county has until Aug. 7 to get its language to the Maryland State Board of Elections; within a week of that, Mickley expects to know whether the county’s ballot will be one page or two.

“A lot of people think elections just happen. There’s so much that goes into this process. There’s a lot of it that people just don’t understand,” he said.

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