Petitioning for an Easier Referendum Law

Activists say it's easier to meet the state's standards for referendums than to petition a county law to the ballot.


A group of county activists wants to make it easier to petition county laws to the ballot and, ironically enough, the group's effort begins with a petition.

Ann Miller, a Republican activist, is one of a number of volunteers who spent election day collecting signatures on a petition to change the Baltimore County Charter.

If successful, the change to the County Charter would mean that voters seeking to challenge a law by referendum in the future would need to collect the signatures of less than 8,700 registered county voters to get an issue on the ballot.

Miller and volunteers working with her are learning first-hand the difficulties in petitioning a county law to referendum as they attempt to collect enough signatures to overturn a .

No law passed by the Baltimore County Council has ever been petitioned to referendum since it moved to home rule in the mid-1950s.

Miller and others say that's because requirements in the County Charter are too strict.

"Right now, at 10 percent, it's nearly impossible to petition a law to referendum," said Miller.

The County Charter requires petitioners to collect the signatures of registered county voters equal to 10 percent of the total number of votes cast in the county in the most recent gubernatorial election. That's 28,826 verified signatures, based on the 2010 election.

Petitioners can buy some extra time if they can collect 9,513 valid signatures in 30 days. The Board of Elections usually recommends that petitioners collect twice the required signatures in order to overcome typical rejection rates.

The balance of the signatures would be due in another 30 days.

By contrast, state laws can be petitioned to the ballot by collecting  signatures equal to 3 percent of the total votes cast statewide for governor—nearly 56,000 signatures based on the 2010 election.

Al Nalley, a Catonsville resident who is helping spearhead the drive to change the County Charter, said the group first approached several council members looking for support for a bill to change existing law. In the end, the support wasn't there.

"We decided to drop it and go with a petition drive," said Nalley.

Unlike some states, there is no ability to pass laws through ballot initiatives in Baltimore County. Voters can only attempt to strike down laws passed by the council.

Voters can, however, change portions of the charter by petitioning it to the ballot—a process that takes about 10,000 signatures of registered county voters.

County Attorney Michael Field said the process is completely legal and has been done successfully—most recently in 2002 and 2010—by unions seeking collective bargaining rights.

Ella White Campbell, executive director of the Liberty Road Community Council, said the change is needed.

"It's really a problem because there is so little time to collect the signatures," said White Campbell, who last fall helped spearhead an to the ballot.

"As long as the law stays the way it is, petitioning a bill to referendum will be a difficult job," said White Campbell.

Brandon April 05, 2012 at 10:08 PM
You are right. I should have said 28,826 can bring the issue to ballot for 805,029 people. What I am saying is that is a terribly small number of people in our community.
Chillin April 06, 2012 at 03:35 AM
Very good points made here, but if only 13 percent of Baltimore County's registered voters deposited a ballot this past election (as per Patch's recent article), even all efforts for an easier referendum will be fruitless. Apathy has settled into our citizens. Despite claims of hard economics times by many, we are apparently feeling quite content as a nation. People don't get off their dead asses to vote unless they are feeling real pressure from some type of adversity. We have become a country of spoiled citizens more interested in March Madness or who the Kardashians are banging this week than in who is making the laws that affect our lives. These pathetic non-participating citizens really are probably to stupid to understand the details of any law that would be presented to them in a voting booth, and they really have no business pulling a lever. What a shame.
Skip727 April 06, 2012 at 09:59 AM
Well said! Enough said!
Brandon April 06, 2012 at 11:24 AM
I'm not sure we are content. If "they" can keep us struggling two things happen: 1) we feel like we have no impact, and 2) we are distracted with trying to keep our financial heads above water. The second is more than a distraction. If we have no money left to make even a small donation to the candidate of our choice those with deep pockets will have that much more advantage over us regular people.
Chillin April 06, 2012 at 01:19 PM
@Brandon. Maybe "complacent" is a more appropriate word for these folks I'm referencing. The word "content" implies that they are aware of what's going on around them, and are quite happy about it. "Complacency" describes the emotion these lazy citizens feel when they have enough money to renew their $150 cell phone account for another month and enough to complete the dragon tattoo on their neck that they've been working on for the past three years. Everything they see coming through their 86 inch Hi-def plasma on the 216 channel cable plan looks sweet. Their mantra is "Hey man, why should I vote? The folks taking time from their busy day to bother voting seem to be voting the right people in, because the all-you-can-eat buffet is still just $8.99. What a country our forefathers have forged for us into eternity."


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