Prince George’s-specific ballot questions struggle for attention -- Gazette.Net


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Prince George’s County voters will face 14 ballot questions in the general election this year, half of which are specific to the county and greatly overlooked due to more controversial statewide questions, residents said.

“There are a few items that are publicized, discussed and debated, but the whole list, you don't see,” said Arthur Turner, president of the Coalition of Central Prince George's County Community Organizations, which represents about 50 community organizations spread across the central part of the county.

Controversial statewide issues such as same-sex marriage and expanded gambling have dominated discussions and political advertising, overshadowing questions regarding multimillion-dollar expenditures and procedural changes in the county.

The first two local ballot initiatives deal with amending the county’s charter to allow the County Council to more speedily take action. The first item would amend how the county deals with the redistricting process that occurs every 10 years. Currently, the county redistricting plan automatically becomes the new standard on Nov. 30 unless the county government moves to alter the plan, which requires at least three public readings of the measure and can take about six weeks to complete and another 45 days to take effect. The change before voters would allow the council to approve changes with a less complicated resolution that requires only two readings and be completed in a few weeks, said Karen Zavakos, legislative officer for the council.

“It enhances the redistricting process by making it shorter but keeping public input,” she said.

A similar change is proposed for how the county handles multi-year contracts of more than $500,000. The move would allow the county government to enter in such agreements by passing a resolution, which takes about three weeks, as opposed to an act, which requires three reading and can take up to about six weeks.

“It expedites approval for governments contracts,” she said.

Both moves would allow the council to still gather public input while allowing the process to be more efficient, Zavakos said.

“We want the public to comment; we want that valuable input,” she said.” We’re not sacrificing it.”

County voters will also have a say on five bond bills that deal with about $632 million worth of capital projects. The bond bills cover a variety of projects to include basic infrastructure improvements across the county, authorizing spending for the establishment of a new fire station in Hyattsville, and laying the groundwork for a roughly $45 million new Health and Wellness Center at the Prince George’s Community College .

However, with so many questions and only brief descriptions on the ballot, it’s possible voters will ignore them completely, according to Paul Herrnson, a professor of government and politics and director of the center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland. Many voters, when confronted with ballots filled with multiple candiates and a list of questions, tend to skip over them, he said.

“They don’t care about the issue or don’t think they know enough to voice an opinion,” he said

Turner doubts most voters will be able to grasp the full nature of where the millions of dollars will go, he said.

“The legalese that is used on the ballot is confusing,” he said. “They should be very specific and dumb it down and make sure people know what they mean.”

Ultimately, staying up to date on the ballot items is a personal responsibility, said Kevin Young, president of the Berwyn District Civic Association, who acknowledged that with weeks to go before the election he still had to learn more about the various ballot measures

“I would hope the average citizen will do what I do and look more closely,” he said. “These are all very important and crucial things for our quality of life here in the county.”

amccombs@gazette.net