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Petition policy is revised

December 17, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Controversy over an Election Day petition drive by a Hagerstown landlords' group means that future petitioners won't be allowed to collect signatures inside polling places.

However, petitioners will still be allowed within 100 feet of polling places, the Washington County Election Board has decided.

The policy was spelled out in a letter Monday from Election Board lawyer Roger Schlossberg to a Hagerstown attorney, William P. Nairn.

Nairn, representing the city of Hagerstown, had argued that the petitioners should have been kept at least 100 feet away from the polls just like candidates and their supporters.

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The Election Board disagreed, saying it would have been a potentially unconstitutional restriction of political speech.

Hagerstown officials have not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling in court, said City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman.

On Election Day, petitioners with the Landlords and Property Owners Association of Washington County were asked to leave polling buildings on Election Day. Some petitioners were so close to the balloting that they were distracting voters, the letter says.

The group fell 39 signatures short of bringing the city's new rental registration program to referendum.

Association President Allan Johnson said the group has not decided whether to ask for a judicial review of the signature count.

As far as the policy on future petitions is concerned, Johnson said he agrees with the Election Board.

"That's reasonable. When we did it, it worked out well," he said.

The group instructed petitioners to approach voters leaving the polls so they would not interfere with the voting process, he said.

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