At least 2,600 signatures collected by Montgomery County's police union in an effort to restore the union's collective bargaining rights are invalid, a Circuit Court judge ruled Wednesday, and more than 6,000 more could be tossed following a trial next week.
The signatures are among 11,225 the county is challenging. If the county is able to get 4,595 of the 34,828 signatures the county Board of Elections approved in November ruled invalid, voters will not be able to decide whether the union can keep its "effects bargaining" rights -- the ability to challenge almost any management decision -- in the November election.
The 2,632 signatures tossed out Wednesday appeared on 669 pages on which the person circulating petitions had listed a vacant lot as her residence in an affidavit certifying that the signatures were collected legally -- that the people signing the petition claimed to be registered Montgomery County voters and knew what they were signing.
A false affidavit invalidates the entire petition page where it appears, said Judge Eric Johnson.
"The affidavit is an integral part of the referendum," he said, quoting a previous court case. "It flies in the face of reason that an affidavit, which is a document that is given under oath, would have incorrect information in it."
The same rules would apply if someone tried to vote with the wrong registration information, Johnson added. "These are not draconian rules that are to be enforced lockstep just for the purpose of doing it. They have a real, real purpose."
Another 6,107 signatures appeared on pages in which the people circulating petitions listed incorrect ZIP codes. Although applying the same rule -- that the information in the affidavit is accurate -- would mean these get tossed out as well, Johnson offered attorneys for the Fraternal Order of Police the opportunity to debate the signatures in court next week.
Most of the remaining signatures being challenged are valid, Johnson said Wednesday, including some collected by convicted felons.
Jonathan Shurberg, the lead attorney representing Montgomery County, flagged these signatures for errors made by the people signing the petitions. For example, 619 signers left off or incorrectly listed a date, while 223 gave a nickname instead of their legal name. But the county's challenges of these signatures would be irrelevant if the court disqualifies the rest of the signatures with affidavit problems. Those 6,107 signatures will be enough to disqualify the union's referendum.
But next week's trial is not likely to be the end of the debate. Attorneys for both the county and the FOP have expressed plans to appeal if they don't get their way.