Proposed State Legislation Aimed at Altering Columbia Elections Fails to Advance
Recently, two proposed Maryland State bills that would have mandated alterations to elections in Columbia's ten villages failed to advance. This article provides a brief summary of the two bills and their fate.
Campaign Finance Disclosures
The first bill was proposed by District 13 Delegate Jen Terrassa, would have required minimal campaign financial disclosures from candidates in Columbia elections. Specifically, the bill proposed a requirement for candidates in village and CA elections to file a report with their respective village detailing any financial contributions they received to fund their campaigns as well as expenditures.
Proponents of this bill thought it would deter monied interests from attempting to influence Columbia elections while providing additional information to voters regarding the financial backing of candidates. Critics of the bill raised concerns that it could create onerous requirements on candidates (under the bill, individual villages would be responsible for outlining how to manage the disclosures) and deter people from running for election in the first place.
The bill did not pass the committee of Howard County's state delegation.
The second bill was proposed by District 12A Delegate Jessica Feldmark and would have altered who is eligible to vote in Columbia elections. Specifically, this bill proposed making all individuals who have deeds or leases on residential property within a village eligible to vote in a village-run election. Currently, the governing documents of most villages (which are difficult to change) limit eligibility to one vote per property for each owner and tenant. If passed, this bill would increase the number of people eligible to vote in most villages.
Proponents of this bill believe that expanding voter eligibility in CA elections would democratize Columbia's representation and be an inherently good thing. There were multiple lines of criticism of the bill: many villages board members were bothered by the lack of proactive engagement with villages prior to its introduction; multiple individuals questioned the legality/constitutionality of the state passing legislation that targeted specific private entities/contracts (notably, these objections were not raised for Delegate Terrasa's bill despite the same logical applicability); some individuals criticized the bill for not addressing all issues with Columbia elections; and some villages raised a practical concern that the change in eligibility requirements would make it impossible for them to determine whether they met the quorum requirements laid out in their governing documents. Notably, the CA board of directors voted to oppose this bill by a narrow 6-4 margin.
The bill passed the committee of Howard County's state delegation but, after hearing significant opposition from several village boards and CA, Delegate Feldmark asked that the bill be withdrawn prior to it receiving a vote from the full Maryland Assembly.
These bills were proposed in the context of the CA Board handling its relationship with its former CEO, Ms. Lakey Boyd, in a way that led to her departure and cost the community a substantial amount of money in legal fees and (likely) severance pay. Additionally, Delegate Terrasa's bill was clearly motivated in large part as a response to "The Rouse Project," an organization - opaquely backed by large businesses - that recruited, provided extensive financial support, and spread disingenuous messaging on behalf of select candidates in the 2021 CA election. While neither bill made it to the floor of the state assembly for a full vote, their proposal demonstrates that at least some state legislators are paying attention to Columbia issues and are attempting to implement change. The mixed reception these bills received demonstrates that the individuals serving on the village and CA boards are not of one mind regarding need for change in the governance of CA and villages nor whether our community should be willing to accept the state's help in attempting to implement change. Notably, despite many village and CA board members proclaiming a belief that there are fundamental issues with the governance and elections for CA and the villages, there is no widespread organic effort by these organizations to use the mechanisms at their disposal to update their own governing structures and election procedures.
About the author: Michael Golibersuch is a Columbia resident and believes increased awareness of CA activities can benefit the community. He serves as a member of the Owen Brown Board of Directors but any views expressed here are his alone. In his role as a member of the Owen Brown Board of Directors, he supported both bills while also asking that Delegate Feldmark's bill be amended to address the practical concerns around determining quorum. Regardless of his support, he believes these bills would have made minimal difference and that they did not address underlying issues with the governance of CA nor the lack of voter participation in village elections. His participation in this effort does not indicate he agrees with all opinions expressed in The Merriweather Post.