Question about nonpartisan elections will be nonbinding

January 30, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE |

After some investigation by a city attorney, the Hagerstown City Council has learned it cannot pose a binding question about nonpartisan city elections on this year’s general election ballot.

The council initially planned to place a nonbinding question on the Nov. 8 ballot, but council members last week wanted to make the referendum binding to “truly leave it up to the voters,” Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood said at last week’s work session.

But a binding referendum is not allowed in this particular case because of the subject matter of the ballot question, City Attorney William P. Nairn informed the council in a Jan. 18 letter that was read at Tuesday’s work session.

A nonpartisan election is one in which candidates do not run as a member of a political party. City elections are currently held in partisan fashion with party affiliations.

Under Maryland law, the nonpartisan election question involves a change to the charter of the City of Hagerstown, which can only be initiated by the legislative body (the council) or a voter petition, Nairn said.

Should voters indicate in a nonbinding vote that they want city elections to be nonpartisan, the five-person council could initiate steps to change the city’s charter.

“It would be contrary to Maryland law to delegate this decision to the voters in a binding referendum,” Nairn wrote in his letter.

The nonpartisan election question resolution, which would stay in its original nonbinding form, is slated for a vote on final approval at the council’s meeting Tuesday.

“I’ll be voting against this just because I think we were put in office to make the difficult decisions, and I don’t think this one is as difficult as many decisions that we will make and have made,” Councilman Forrest W. Easton said.

Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood, who is also against the motion, said she would support the idea of nonpartisan elections only if that’s what the majority votes for in November.

“Until the people have the opportunity to pledge that (they support it), I think that there’s too many questions unanswered to support it,” Haywood said.

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