On Aug. 16, the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition was notified that 5,265 of the more than 14,000 petitions we submitted Aug. 1 in a campaign to put a question on the November ballot were found to be invalid. Only 9,678 entries were ruled acceptable — 322 short of the 10,000 required to secure ballot access.
Our intent was to ask Baltimore voters in November whether the city should take the first steps to create a Baltimore Regional Transportation Authority (BRTA) to supplant the Maryland Transit Administration’s autocratic governance over transit policy, services and programs.
MTA, a division of the Maryland Department of Transportation, implements race-based transit policy, evident in the cancellation of the Red Line light rail project and the proposal of permanent, draconian cuts to the budget and services for the city’s core bus service, with its 83% Black ridership. By contrast, the commuter rail service, MARC, with its 74% white ridership would suffer only modest, temporary budget reductions of 4% to 8%.
We asked the Board of Elections for a review of the results, but on Aug. 19, I received an email from Elections Director Armstead Jones expressing an urgent need for us to speak. Over the phone, Mr. Jones stated that the petition review process was canceled as of that afternoon, claiming that it was an unnecessary “waste of time” and that his staff was very competent.
As president of the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, I insisted that we had a right to review the petitions to challenge those that may have been erroneously rejected by the Aug. 26 deadline.
Our protest led the Board of Elections to transfer the petitions to an external memory drive for our review, which was completed on Aug. 24 by a copy shop that charged $573.88. In other words, the Board of Elections had more than two weeks, from Aug. 1 to Aug. 16, to review and classify the petitions. Yet, it granted BTEC only one and a half days to review more than 14,000 petitions and to get a judicial order to reclassify at least 322 of those rejected as “accepted” — an impossible task as Director Jones could well have anticipated and intended.
Having passed the Aug. 26 deadline, BTEC must now seek injunctive relief to counter the Board of Election’s undue limitation of our right to review, challenge and reclassify petitions where warranted.
A verifiable account of this conflict and the violation of BTEC’s right to unbiased, lawful treatment has been shared with the representative of the Office of the Attorney General, the leadership of the State Board of Elections, and memorialized in a complaint filed with the Baltimore City Circuit Court.
Without justifiable public outrage and judicial action, many thousands of Baltimore voters will be deprived of the opportunity to demonstrate their support in the November General Election for the initiation of a Baltimore Regional Transportation Authority (BRTA) and the completion of the Red Line light rail project, the combination of which would improve transit equity, transit policy, services, and governance, and transform the regional economy.
To raise funds for the legal battle ahead, BTEC is hosting a bus tour of the Red Line Light Rail corridor Sept. 3 at 1 p.m. and has launched a legal defense fund.
— Samuel Jordan, Baltimore
The writer (Samuel.Jordan@moretransitequity.com) is president of the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition.