Other petition bids in play
While Renew Baltimore’s petition failed to pass muster, two other groups organizing petition drives did submit signatures to the city.
One, promoted by the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, would create a fund to “promote” and “negotiate” an agreement to “seek enabling legislation” for the creation of a Baltimore Regional Transportation Authority.
Two more, sponsored by the People for Elected Accountability & Civic Engagement, were also submitted. One would establish a two-term limit for the city’s mayor, members of the City Council and comptroller. Another would create a process of recall elections for city elected leaders “failing to meet certain standards for adequate performance.”
Jovani Patterson, a Republican candidate who lost a bid for Baltimore council president in 2020, is the group’s chairman, according to state committee records.
Patterson and his wife are engaged in a lawsuit against the city and its school system alleging city residents received “no benefit” from a system that “completely fails to perform its most important function” of educating children.
The largest donor to People for Elected Accountability & Civic Engagement is David Smith, executive chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group, a Hunt Valley-based TV station owner. He donated $385,000 to the group.
Election officials have a short window to vet the signatures that have been submitted before the Nov. 8 election ballot printing must begin. Signatures must be verified by Aug. 22. Petitioners have until Aug. 31 to seek judicial review for a charter amendment petition.
Ballots for the fall election are due to be certified by the State Board of Elections by Sept. 6. Printing is slated to begin Sept. 9.
The review, which will be conducted by the city’s election board, is two-part: submitted signers are cross-checked against city voter registration records to ensure names and addresses match those on file. Signers must be registered to vote in Baltimore.
Election officials also must verify the validity of each sheet turned in by the petitioners. The sheets must include the name and contact information for the petition circulator, as well as a signed affidavit swearing that the contained information is true.
Andy Ellis, a local Green Party leader familiar with the petition process, said petitioners need to be prepared for names and even entire sheets of signatures to be thrown out during the review process. A petitioner new to the process would be wise to collect 15,000 signatures, 5,000 more than required, to ensure they hit the threshold, Ellis said.
Some of the rules, such as requirements for voter verification, are quite specific in the law. Other provisions, like one that allows officials to search for signs of fraud, are more vague, he said.
“It’s sort of opaque, but they will look for signs of fraud,” Ellis said. “If every signature on the page looks the same, there’s some provision for dealing with that.”
Election officials also must confirm that the petition’s subject matter is authorized by law. Based on the advice of a “legal authority,” officials must determine whether enactment would be unconstitutional or otherwise barred by law.
City Solicitor Jim Shea said the state attorney general’s office would provide such guidance for the city election board.