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Hagerstown City Council considers changing elections to nonpartisan

January 17, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — To bind or not to bind, that is the question facing the Hagerstown City Council on the 2012 general election ballot.

The council has been considering a proposed change that would make elections nonpartisan — an election in which candidates are not nominated based on political party — and planned to pose a non-binding question to voters on the Nov. 8 ballot to gauge support.

The original resolution, presented by City Attorney William Nairn during a work session in November 2011, indicated that the question would be nonbinding, but several council members questioned that notion during a work session Tuesday night.

“I think it should be binding,” Councilman Forrest W. Easton said. “We’re going through all the work to put it on the ballot. It seems ridiculous to not listen to what the citizens have (to say).”

According to city documents, the original proposed question reads:

“Should Article V Section 503 of the Charter of the City of Hagerstown be amended by the Hagerstown City Council to provide for a non-partisan primary in which the ten persons with the highest votes without regard to political party shall become candidates for City Council in the general election and the two persons with the highest number of votes without regard to political party shall become candidates for Mayor in the general election?”

By leaving it as a nonbinding question, it would make it possible for the council to turn down the change at a later date, regardless of what the voters say.

Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood said she is not in favor of bipartisan elections, but urged the five-member council to ultimately leave it up to the voters.

“We should truly leave it up to the voters and not give off any sort of appearance that this is just a stunt, and we’re serious about making this a positive, so to speak, change,” Haywood said.

In the end, the council, which took no formal action Tuesday but will likely make the question binding, agreed to make some small changes in language to ensure the question was clear on the ballot.

“I just want to make absolutely sure that the whole process is nonpartisan,” Councilman Martin E. Brubaker said, noting that the resolution only stated that the primary would be nonpartisan rather than both the primary and general elections. “People could say, ‘That wasn’t specified.’”

The question would appear on the general election ballot at the bottom, below the presidential candidates and city candidates, Nairn said.

The deadline to submit ballot question language in time for the general election is Aug. 20, according to city documents.

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