From the Editor: Ballot questions should be longer than a tweet

October 10, 2012

Susie CurrieBY SUSIE CURRIE  — Are you registered to vote? And if not, does it matter?

We know, we know: Maryland is a one-party state. In these parts, if you’re a Democratic incumbent in November, odds are that you will continue to be one come January.  And sure, watching the presidential debates can be illuminating. But when was the last time Maryland’s electoral-college votes went to a Republican? (Hint: 1980.)

Granted. But you should still do it. Because when Hyattsville voters go to the polls next month, they will be deciding questions that will reverberate through the state and the county for decades to come. In the spirit of public service, we present the text of all 14 of them so you won’t be seeing them for the first time on November 6.

On the ballot, questions of statewide significance are numbered 1 to 7, while those specific to Prince George’s County are lettered A to G. Of the seven state questions, the first three are amendments to the state constitution. Questions 4 to 6 are referendums – “public policy laws passed by the General Assembly but successfully petitioned to referendum to allow the voters to make the final decision,” wrote Del. Anne Healey (D-22) in a letter to constituents she has represented since 1990.  (For the record, she supports all seven measures.)

Perhaps this voter, at the Hyattsville Library polling place during the 2012 election, was as confused as we were by the ballot language. Photo courtesy Susie Currie

Perhaps this voter, at the Hyattsville Library polling place during the 2012 election, was as confused as we were by the ballot language. Photo courtesy Susie Currie.

And then there’s (The $25 Million) Question 7. In an August special session, the General Assembly narrowly passed this bill, which would bring a casino to Prince George’s County and expand gaming in the state’s existing casinos. Millions of dollars have been spent on both sides to persuade you, so we leave it to you to do your research. (If you find out why that is the only question actually written as one, let us know.)

Question 3 seems to be a direct response to the recent turmoil caused by certain public-servants-turned-convicted-felons whose names will be forever linked to the county. The amendment would speed up the process for removing from office lawmakers who turn out to be lawbreakers. Under current law, elected officials who plead guilty or are found guilty can (and almost always do) continue to draw a salary until their sentencing date, which may not be for months. This amendment would suspend the official at conviction rather than sentencing.

Freshman delegate Tiffany Alston (D-24), who represents a district bordering ours, will surely be interested in the answer to that Question. Alston was convicted in June of embezzlement and had her law license revoked by the state in September, but her sentencing will wait until after a second trial this month, on similar charges.

The Maryland State Board of Elections website is a terrific resource for those who aspire to be informed voters. [Digression: Of course, it doesn’t address the Orwellian language of Question 6, The Civil Marriage Protection Act. Is that like the D.C. Statehood Protection Act? It seems apparent that something has to exist to be protected; Question 6 would be more accurately called the Civil Marriage Establishment Act.] The site contains the legislative background and non-technical summaries for each state question.

But no similar information is available for Questions A through G, which will appear only on ballots in Prince George’s County. Compared to the state questions, the county ones leave something to be desired. Like specifics.

All are designated as “Charter Required Referendums,” although what puts them in that category remains a mystery, as does the online whereabouts of the county charter itself.

Note to County Question Writers: If you can tweet it, it’s too short. Take Question B (please):  “To amend the procedure for approval of multiyear contracts by resolution of the County Council upon notice and public hearing.” What procedure? How would it be changed? Your  guess is as good as ours.

Other questions, concerning hundreds of millions in bond issues, are vague. Question E provides for “$156,354,000 to finance the design, construction, reconstruction, extension, acquisition, improvement, enlargement, alteration, renovation, relocation, rehabilitation or repair of Public Safety Facilities (including Fire Department Facilities), as defined therein.” Reportedly, this will fund a new fire department for Hyattsville, but you’d never know it.

I vote for making those non-technical summaries of ballot initiatives mandatory for Maryland counties, as they are for the state. In the meantime, for this election, the deadline to register is October 16. See you at the polls!

 

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