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Hagerstown City Council to put nonpartisan elections to a referendum

January 31, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown City Council remains at odds about the idea of lifting party affiliations from city elections, but a 3-2 vote Tuesday night ensured a nonbinding referendum question will appear on this year’s general election ballot.

A nonpartisan election is one in which candidates are nominated without party affiliation, which is how city elections are currently conducted.

Council members Forrest W. Easton and Ashley C. Haywood voted against the measure, but for different reasons.

Easton said he supports nonpartisan elections, but doesn’t see why it should be put on the Nov. 6 ballot at all. Council members have said that this issue is “too important” to be decided by the five-member council alone, which is his main sticking point, he said.

“I would like to point out that in 32 months since this administration has taken office, this is the first time, and only time, we’ve decided that an issue was too important to decide by ourselves,” he said.

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Easton said he hasn’t heard nearly the level of concern from citizens about this issue as several others, such as changes to recycling, taking out a $600,000 loan or asking the community to support $10 million in renovations to the Hagerstown Suns’ stadium.

“I’ve never heard any of us argue those issues should be decided by the citizens, and these are the issues I’ve received dozens of emails, dozens of phone calls, dozens of letters and had dozens of meetings about,” he said.

Haywood, meanwhile, called it a “hasty decision” without looking at more data on voter turnout considering the city’s recent change to align its elections with the presidential elections, which could cause “more of an indifference rate than elections held separately.”

After a work session earlier this month, the council was leaning toward making the referendum binding, but City Attorney William P. Nairn said that was not possible due to the nature of the question.

Under Maryland law, the nonpartisan election question involves a change in the city charter, which can only be initiated by the council or a voter petition, Nairn said.

If voters indicate in the nonbinding vote that they want city elections to be nonpartisan, the council could take the steps to change the city’s charter.

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