TAKOMA PARK – On Sept. 18, Takoma Park City Council discussed making changes to the election-related city charter and code amendments to streamline and modernize the election process in the city.
As it stands, the changes to the amendments are still in a nascent stage, with further meetings to take place in the near future before official changes are made. In the absence of Mayor Kate Stewart, Councilmember Terry Seamens served as mayor pro tempore. Councilmember Peter Kovar was absent as well: Stewart and Kovar’s questions and concerns were relayed through email.
One of the first topics at the meeting was nomination, brought up by Kovar, who asked whether or not it should be permitted.
“The board doesn’t have an issue with self-nomination; I think if there is thinking that there should be (a) higher requirement for support before you become a candidate, then you should just raise the number of nominations required,” said Brian Ernst, chair of Takoma Park’s Board of Elections. “But it doesn’t seem to be, in our view, an issue for candidates to self-nominate.”
A more time-consuming issue, though, was recall elections. The timing of the election raised concerns about how close it was to the regular election, should one happen: recall petitions must currently be submitted at least 120 days prior to the next general election.
“Frankly, this is cutting it close, 120 days, Because in reality, (if) there were a citywide petition to recall the mayor, for instance, that would be a lot of signatures, whereas for one ward, that would be a more-manageable amount of signatures,” said City Clerk Jessie Carpenter.
The councilmembers mostly agreed that the 120-day deadline was too short, with many noting that having to prepare for two elections in such a short period was stressful on the limited resources of the city. Councilmember Terry Seamens stated that people working the recall election would have little turnaround time for the regular election, while Carpenter brought up the size of the city and staff involved.
A 180-day timeline was, according to Ernst, the longest one he has seen for a recall election and one that Councilmember Talisha Searcy seconded as a possible alternative. He said that the conversation around recall elections could be preventive more than predictive, as there has not been a recall in Takoma Park since 1964.
The council does not know if there have been petitions, since there may have been some that gathered signatures but were never submitted.
The council did not come up with a solution to the issue of campaign signs on private property. The official rule the city goes by is that signs follow county guidelines on signage display, which is, that campaign signs may be displayed on private property for no more than 30 days.
“That’s one that’s been a concern for tenants. Especially when there’s been a disagreement between tenants and landowners, the landowner wins. The tenant may live there, but the landowner gets to put up the sign. We have thought of no resolution to that problem,” said Seamens.
The city council also discussed campaign contributions, specifically those dealing with the language around disclosures and anonymous donations. Currently, the code says that candidates must disclose the names and addresses of people who contribute more than $25 to an election.
“I think it’s a good idea to not allow anonymous donations, and I think that it’s good that we would require people to report those. In terms of the reporting to me, it doesn’t say what you’re saying would be required,” Councilmember Kacy Kostiuk told Ernst.
The board of elections also proposed some additions themselves, one of which is defining ‘in-kind contributions. The board defines these as “…the fair market value for goods, or services for which the contributor normally charges, and payments made on behalf of a candidate, except that volunteering the contributor’s own time or use of a personal vehicle or residence to a campaign shall not constitute an in-kind contribution. The fair market value shall be the usual and normal charge for a good or service.”
The board also proposed a revision to the code that campaign contributions would not apply to spouses or domestic partners.