City considers delaying election for UMD voters

Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2006

With two City Council members departing next month, College Park officials could delay a special election scheduled for Jan. 16, when many University of Maryland students are away from the city on winter break.

The successful bids for higher office by Councilwoman Joseline Pena-Melnyk (Dist. 4), who was elected as a District 21 delegate, and Councilman Eric Olson (Dist. 3), who will serve on the Prince George’s County Council, has left student body leaders wondering if students will be able to vote for their city representatives.

College Park City Code stipulates that a special election must be held within 45 days of a council member’s resignation. Olson and Pena-Melnyk said they would both resign from their council spots on Dec. 4. Since university students don’t return from winter break until Jan. 24, the special election would be held while most of the student population is away from campus, unless a change to the 45-day rule is made.

At the Nov. 14 council meeting, Mayor Stephen Brayman said the council would discuss a delayed election at the Nov. 21 work session. That discussion was held after press time for The Gazette.

Councilman David Milligan (Dist. 1) said that while the council would like to ensure all city residents get a chance to cast a ballot, Districts 3 and 4 would be at a disadvantage if the special election was delayed.

‘‘It’s an issue we’re very conscious of. We want to make sure all residents of the city have a full opportunity to vote,” Milligan said. ‘‘But the longer the [special election] is delayed, the longer Districts 3 and 4 have half the votes of the other districts in the city.”

Each of the four College Park districts have two council members.

Several council members, including Olson, said they were skeptical about whether the City Code could be amended.

‘‘There may be some challenges in actually being able to change the timeline,” he said. ‘‘I think the elections have to held in a timely manner. ... But it may turn out that change is not possible.”

Changing the election date would require several steps: a council discussion, public hearing and a council vote, said Jack Robson, election commissioner for College Park.

Altering the January election, Robson said, would also affect withdrawal dates for candidates, possibly delaying the city’s absentee ballots, since officials don’t want to include the names of withdrawn candidates on the ballots.

‘‘It could be a real mess,” Robson said.

Jesse Blitzstein, student liaison to the City Council, said he would continue to lobby council members to delay the election for Districts 3 and 4, which include the university campus, Fraternity Row and large groups of off-campus student housing.

‘‘I feel it’s my responsibility to pressure the city to change the election, but I’m not optimistic that’s going to happen,” Blitzstein said.

Student Government Association President Emma Simson said the council should consider students’ participation in the 2006 midterm elections — including more than 2,000 students registered by voting organizations this fall — before making a final decision on the special election.

‘‘Students have demonstrated their interest to choose who represents them,” Simson said. ‘‘[Delaying the vote] would allow students and all people who are invested in the city of College Park to choose their elected representatives.”

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