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Margin of defeat surprised Washington County home rule supporters

February 14, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

An energetic campaign from charter home rule supporters was not enough to sway Washington County residents, who voted down the proposal by a 2-to-1 margin in Tuesday's primary election.

With all precincts reporting, 15,281 votes were cast against the charter and 7,877 votes were cast for it, according to unofficial results.

The vote means that Washington County will retain its commissioner form of government.

By law, a new charter board cannot be created for 18 months after a charter is voted down.

The margin of votes would be too great for absentee and provisional ballots to change the result.

"The public has spoken with a very loud and clear voice," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, who was reached by mobile phone Tuesday night.

Shank, who opposed the charter, said the vote mirrors recent charter decisions in other Maryland counties. He said three of four proposed charters in Maryland have been voted down in the last 10 years.

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Tuesday's charter proposal is the third to have been voted down in Washington County.

In 1977, a ballot question on charter home rule failed with 38 percent of the vote. Another proposal in 1988 came closer, but lost with 45 percent of the vote.

Charter proponent Jeanne F. Singer could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

The proposed charter would have changed Washington County's governing body from a five-member board of county commissioners to a seven-member county council.

Under Maryland law, county councils can pass their own local legislation.

County commissioners must submit bills to the Maryland General Assembly for approval.

Proponents of the charter generally argued that it would give local elected officials and citizens more power to govern themselves.

Opponents said it would have upset a system of checks and balances between the county commissioners and state legislators. Some charter opponents said they were in favor of charter government but disagreed with specific aspects of the proposed charter.

For example, opponents said that referendum requirements were too high to be effective.

The charter would have given voters the right to challenge local legislation through referendum, or public vote.

Under the proposed charter, Washington County residents would have been able to challenge local bills with the signatures of 7 percent of the county's registered voters.

Some legislation, including budgets, taxes and short-term borrowing, would have been exempt from referendum.

To challenge long-term borrowing, voters would have had to collect the signatures of 15 percent of the county's registered voters.

Proponents argued that the number was high enough to keep a minority of voters from challenging every bill but still low enough to work.

Nine Maryland counties have charter home rule governments. Six counties have approved code home rule and eight counties have kept commissioner government.

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