No On B’s challenge to Robin Ficker’s attempt to impose term limits on the Montgomery County Council and Executive is moving ahead and is in very good shape. The Petition for Judicial Review is drafted and is being filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court today.
On August 8, Ficker submitted petition signatures in support of his proposed charter amendment. Ficker’s petition signatures were certified by the County Election Director on August 23 as Question B on Montgomery County’s November 8, 2016 general-election ballot. According to the Board of Elections, Ficker submitted 17,649 signatures, of which 12,573 were accepted and 5,076 were rejected (29%).
Upon a careful review of a sample of the petitions, we believe Ficker has not submitted 10,000 signatures that meet Maryland legal standards. Though there appear to be many types of infirmities in the entries scattered among the petitions, one is prominent throughout. Ficker’s petitions show strong signs of having had the date filled in by someone other than the petition signer…
…where each signature on the page appears to have been filled out by a single hand. This is simply not allowed under Maryland law and regulations, which require that:
To sign a petition, an individual shall…(2) include the following information, printed or typed, in the spaces provided:… (iii) the date of signing[.] (Md. Elections Code Ann., §6-203(a))
The individual signing the petition must provide this information; there is no authority to suggest that anyone else may do so. A petition gatherer may no sooner fill in the date for the signer than fill in the signer’s name or actual signature. Each piece of information must be printed or typed by the signer, not the gatherer.
Remarkably, 80-90% of the pages we have reviewed show a pattern similar to this. We are optimistic that these signatures will be struck by a court; petitioners are held to a very strict standard when challenged, and these entries simply do not meet the legal standard.
The petition’s woes are not confined to the signature dates. We were surprised to identify 19 separate ways in which entries accepted by the Board of Elections did not meet the legal standards. Some were as simple – and striking – as “OK”ed entries missing a signature:
In just an hour or so of examining a wide sample of the signature pages, a small group found at least 12 examples of incorrect signer names being approved by the Board of Elections, and 29 different other problems. This indicates strongly that there are serious systemic issues throughout the approved petition signatures.
If a court strikes more than 2,573 signatures, the proposed charter amendment will not go on the ballot this fall. It is past the deadline and too late for Ficker or anyone else to gather any more signatures.
While we had initially considered the signature challenge to be a dotting-the-I’s type of task that was unlikely to bear fruit, it may very well turn out that it wins the war.