Anyone watching the Rockville city elections closely this year will likely notice a few changes, partly in response to confusion in the last election.
This fall, candidates can officially withdraw from city elections.
In 2011, Joseph Jordan filed papers to run for council, but later requested to withdraw from the election. Since there was no legal mechanism for a candidate to withdraw from a race, his name was placed on the official ballot, according to one of the board’s reports.
The new policy would let candidates withdraw their candidacy up to the filing deadline. It also provides a way to remove candidates who die before the filing deadline.
The Mayor and Council also decided to move the last campaign-finance reporting deadline before the election back to where it was in 2007 — the Monday a week and one day before the election. In 2011, the deadline was the Thursday before the election.
That year, mayoral candidate Piotr Gajewski was accused of violating campaign-finance rules a few weeks before the election. He later was cleared of the allegations, a Gazette article reported online the day before voters went to the polls.
Council member Tom Moore said an earlier deadline would give voters more time before the election to look into anything that comes up in the second round of campaign-finance reports.
The Mayor and Council are expected to officially adopt the new policies on the withdrawal of candidates and campaign-finance reporting deadlines at a future meeting. They discussed making the changes during a March 4 meeting, which included a report from the Rockville Board of Supervisors of Elections.
The city clerk’s office needs to get regulatory changes settled in time to publish a candidate information packet for prospective city leaders by May 1.
One of the board’s most contentious recommendations was for Rockville to stop providing copies of Montgomery County’s voter database to candidates. Board members reasoned that since Rockville does not own the database, candidates should get it directly from the county rather than asking city staff to distribute the database and ask the county for corrections and clarifications.
Council member Mark Pierzchala said the database usually contains formatting errors or missing information, so someone has to go back and get them corrected from the county.
“Montgomery County has a history of taking several iterations to get it right,” he said.
Moore agreed. “They’ve never gotten it right the first time,” he said.
Pierzchala said Rockville traditionally has tried to encourage new candidates to run for office, and providing the database is the biggest way to do that.
Lois Neuman, the chair of the board, said getting the database and any corrections from the county should be up to candidates, not city staff.
“I’m not sure as a taxpayer ... that that’s how I want my tax dollars to be spent,” she said.
Moore said not providing the database would disadvantage new candidates.
“I don’t want people to win elections because they’re better at database work,” he said.
After some discussion, City Clerk Doug Barber suggested keeping the policy the same this year and revisiting it again after the 2013 election. The Mayor and Council agreed.
The board also reported that the communications department in the city manager’s office is reviewing Rockville’s policy on candidates using the city flag, seal and logo in campaign materials. The final policy will be included in the 2013 candidate information packet, according to the board’s report.
Rockville holds elections for mayor and four council members every two years. The 2013 election is set for Nov. 5.
Information about Rockville elections is posted at rockvillemd.gov/election13.