MontCo argues 11,000 signatures should be tossed on police bargaining measure

Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

More than 11,000 signatures collected by the Montgomery County police union and approved by the county Board of Elections should be invalidated, disqualifying the union's referendum to restore collective bargaining rights, attorneys for the county argued Monday in Circuit Court.

The Fraternal Order of Police needs 30,234 signatures to get the referendum restoring the union's right to "effects bargaining," or the ability to bargain almost any management decision, on the ballot. The Board of Elections approved 34,828 petition signatures in November, but the county is challenging 11,225 of them.

Of those, 9,062 were flagged because of errors made by the people circulating the petitions, including some known felons. For example, one circulator, Faye Lapp, listed a vacant lot as her residence on 669 pages, invalidating 2,632 signatures, argued county attorney Jonathan Shurberg.

The affidavits Lapp and other petition gatherers signed are intended to verify that the signatures were collected legally and that all the people who signed were registered voters. Incorrect information in the affidavits should invalidate those pages, Shurberg argued.

Shurberg also flagged 2,163 signatures in which petition signers made mistakes. For example, 223 people listed a nickname instead of their legal name, while 490 signers left out their middle name or initial, which is required to verify voters' identities, he said. Other signers left off or incorrectly wrote the date on which they signed the forms, while others' identities could not be verified because they omitted their birth date and incorrectly listed their addresses.

But attorneys for the Board of Elections and the police union argued that the Board of Elections was able to verify that the petition signers were registered voters regardless of whether they forgot to list a date, and that the county's argument would needlessly strip county voters of their rights.

"Does a problem with a circulator's affidavit trump the right of those individuals to properly sign a petition in the first place?" asked Kevin Karpinski, attorney for the Board of Elections. "In other words, do you disenfranchise those individuals in Montgomery County who have the right to sign that petition because the last number of a ZIP code [in a circulator's affidavit is wrong]?"

Judge Eric Johnson said he plans to rule on both sides' motions for summary judgment Wednesday.

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