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Politics

Baltimore voters will be asked this fall to consider term limits; other proposed ballot questions short of signatures

Baltimore voters will be asked this fall to decide whether the city’s future elected leaders should be limited to two terms, the only successful question to emerge from multiple petition drives to put issues on the ballot this year.

Petitioners for the term limit question, financed by Sinclair Broadcast Group Chairman David Smith, collected the necessary 10,000 signatures to send the issue to voters, city election officials announced Monday.

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Two other efforts, one to establish recall elections and another to create a fund to “seek enabling legislation” for the creation of a Baltimore Regional Transportation Authority, fell short of the mark.

If successful, term limits would restrict elected city leaders to serving no more than eight years in in their elected office within a 12-year time frame. A mayor, council president, council members and comptroller elected in 2024 and thereafter would be affected.

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Baltimore election officials spent several weeks vetting signatures submitted by organizers behind all three 2022 ballot drives, each of which believed they had surpassed the 10,000-signature threshold. The term limit petition initially presented 19,448 signatures, while transit had 14,145 and the recall petition presented 11,025.

Officials cross-checked signatures against city voter registration records to ensure names and addresses matched those on file. Signers must be registered to vote in Baltimore. The validity of each sheet turned in by the petitioners also was verified. The sheets must include the name and contact information for the petition circulator, as well as a signed affidavit swearing that the contained information is true.

Because some signatures inevitably are tossed out, seasoned petitioners say 15,000 signatures is typically a safe number to submit.

Organizers behind the transit petition, submitted by the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, neared that 5,000-signature cushion after a lengthy effort to collect signatures, but ultimately came up short. The coalition was formed to advocate for the completion of the Red Line light rail that was canceled by Republican Governor Larry Hogan.

Samuel Jordan, president of the coalition, said his group will seek a judicial review of the election board’s decision. The coalition was informed last week they were 322 signatures shy of the 10,000 bench mark. Several thousand signatures were ruled invalid because they were from unregistered voters, Jordan said.

Jordan said election officials initially agreed to a review of the results with the coalition but “reneged” on the agreement.

City elections director Armstead Jones said he agreed only to discuss a sample of the rejected signatures, but did not agree to a complete review.

“In my mind, you’re asking for a recount, and you have to pay for it,” said Jones, referring to state recount rules that can require candidates to bear the cost of vote recounts.

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Jordan said a sample is not a complete review. The group is consulting with attorneys to move forward with a legal challenge, he said.

“We’re going to pursue the options available to us and it seems the court is the only available option,” Jordan said. “But we expect and we insist that we be treated fairly and fairness includes a right to review. The right to redress is constitutional, and we want nothing less.”

Petitioners have until Aug. 31 to file for a judicial review of a petition.

The other two petition drives to establish recall elections and term limits were both funded by Smith, chairman of Hunt Valley-based Sinclair. He gave $385,000 to the effort, dubbed the People for Elected Accountability & Civic Engagement, campaign finance records show. Sinclair operates 185 television stations in 86 markets, including WBFF-TV, known as Fox 45, in Baltimore.

Ahead of the petition effort, Fox 45 News frequently reported on the idea of recalling Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott, who started his four-year term in December 2020. Baltimore’s charter has no mechanism for the public to recall officeholders and does not limit the number of terms elected leaders can serve.

Smith’s financial backing was not enough to carry the recall petition, but voters will be asked to consider term limits this fall. The proposed limits would be implemented by amending the city charter. Baltimore officials are elected to four-year terms.

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If a candidate is elected to fill a vacancy, the candidate can hold office for the remainder of their predecessor’s unexpired term and one consecutive term thereafter, according to the ballot question.

The city’s current mayor, comptroller and members of the City Council are due for reelection in 2024.

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Jovani Patterson, chairman of People for Elected Accountability & Civic Engagement, did not respond to a request for comment.

Several unsuccessful attempts at establishing term limits locally have come in recent years from Baltimore City Council members. Democratic Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer proposed a measure in 2018 to limit the mayor, comptroller and council members to three terms. It failed to get out of committee. Then-Councilman Bill Henry, now the Democratic city comptroller, introduced a similar proposal in 2015 that failed to gain enough support.

The term-limit question is the only one to emerge from an unusually busy petition season in Baltimore. Organizers had until Aug. 1 to submit the necessary signatures to place proposed charter amendments on the November ballot.

Another well-publicized effort to reduce and cap Baltimore’s property tax rate failed to gather enough signatures before the deadline.

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Organized by a group called Renew Baltimore, the effort was backed by a coalition of economists and several former city officials, including former U.S. District Court judge and former city solicitor Andre Davis and former Democratic City Councilmembers Rikki Spector and Carl Stokes. The drive reportedly collected more than 9,000 signatures, however none were verified by election officials.

Organizers argued the reduction in tax revenue would pay for itself by attracting more homeowners and developers to the city.

Mayor Scott’s administration deemed the initiative “absurd.”


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