Md. voters approve budget, gaming ballot questions; voters also weigh in on Montgomery Co. ballot questions

Voters in Maryland overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure giving lawmakers greater power over the state’s budget, upending the existing fiscal balance of power, and another measure that cleared the way for legalized sports betting in the state.

In addition, voters in Montgomery County, the state’s most populous county, appeared poised to add two seats to the county council and overhaul the system for collecting property taxes, although Wednesday morning, there were still significant numbers of Election Day votes that had not yet been tabulated because of a technical issue.

The Associated Press called both statewide ballot measures late Tuesday night.

The reporting of election results was marred, however, by two issues. First, long lines at voting centers at the time polls closed led to a delay in reporting statewide results early in the night. Long lines had been reported all day in Calvert County, among others.

Also, shortly after 2 a.m., state election officials said in a statement they would not be able to report results for several jurisdictions results because of a technical issue involving transferring data from thumb drives. The State Board of Elections did not specify which jurisdictions would not be complete. The board’s statement said more details would be provided Wednesday.

Here’s a rundown of the state and local ballot issues voters in Maryland decided on Election Day, and where things stand based on unofficial vote totals reported so far.

Voters approve 2 statewide questions

On the statewide ballot measures, voters approved Question 1, which rewrites the state constitution to significantly expand the power of state lawmakers to retool the governor’s proposed annual budget, as long as it doesn’t exceed the total proposed amount.

Currently, state legislators can only cut from the budget but not shift funding around.

With all Election Day and early voting ballots counted, as well as a significant number of mail-in ballots, support for budget proposal was running at more than 74% compared to about 26% opposed.

Maryland lawmakers’ lack of budget power is unique in the U.S. Question 1 is supported by Democrats in the General Assembly as a “good government reform” but opposed by many Republicans.

The measure wouldn’t take effect until 2022, after Republican Gov. Larry Hogan leaves office.

Shortly before midnight when Question 1 was likely to pass, Democratic State Senate President Bill Ferguson issued a statement.

“Today’s vote shows that Marylanders recognize that our Legislative branch is a co-equal branch of government, entrusted and relied upon to protect our shared values for the future,” Ferguson said. “We will spend the next two years making sure the process for the FY2024 budget is ready to prepare for this change in a responsible manner.”

Hogan came out against Question 1, calling it “a blatant cash and power grab of multibillion dollar proportions.”

Separately, voters in Maryland gave their seal of approval (66% to 34%) to legalized sports betting under the other statewide ballot measure, Question 2.

The referendum asked voters to approve sports and events betting at licensed facilities, however key details, such as where sports betting would be allowed and which sports or events would be included, will be decided by state lawmakers by legislation.

It’s not yet clear how much revenue sports betting would bring in. Estimates based on what other states have brought in indicate legalized sports betting in Maryland would bring in about $36.6 million. If a 20% tax were applied, the state’s cut would be about $7.3 million, according to a state analysis.

The measure enjoyed wide support across the political spectrum.

Early results on Montgomery Co. ballot questions dealing with property taxes, county council

In Montgomery County, voters appeared to be on pace to approve ballot questions to overhaul the county’s process for collecting property taxes and to expand the size of the county council for the first time in three decades, according to the latest vote totals, available early Wednesday morning. 

Election results available early Wednesday morning included just a fraction of votes cast on Election Day, as well as all ballots cast during early voting and a significant number of mail-in ballots. However, because of the technical issue involving thumb drives, just three of 40 Election Day vote centers were reporting in-person votes as Wednesday morning.

Complicating the reporting of results, Maryland’s State Board of Elections website for several hours incorrectly said 100% of Election Day votes in Montgomery County had been counted, when only results from three vote centers had been tabulated.

Based on the early results reported, the measures backed by county leadership and a broad swath of progressive and business-friendly groups — Questions A and C — held leads.

Based on the early vote tally, support for the property-tax proposal Question A was running at 62%.

Question A does away with an existing cap on the overall amount of property tax revenue the county can collect in favor of an annual cap on property tax rates that backers say would allow the county to take advantage of rising property values development. Raising the property tax rate would require a unanimous vote by the council.

Support for Question C, which would add two district seats to the county council, was at 61%.

Under Question C, the number of at-large seats would remain at four, while the total number of seats on the council would increase from nine to 11.

The current council structure has been in place since 1990, and proponents, including at-large Council Member Evan Glass, said the change is necessary because of population growth over the past 30 years.

Support for competing ballot measures dealing with property taxes and the county council structure — which were both the result of citizen’s groups that gathered signatures to get them on the ballot — was trailing, based on the unofficial ballot questions.

Unofficial early results showed just under 42% of voters in support of Question B, which was spearheaded by Republican lawyer and activist Robin Ficker.

Ficker’s proposal would have continued to cap total property tax revenue collection but also prohibited the county council from approving any increase above the rate of inflation. Ficker argued it was a safeguard against property tax increases, but opponents said it would seriously hamper the county’s ability to fund schools and transportation.

Support for Question D, the competing measure dealing with the county council’s structure, was also trailing, with just under 42% of voters in favor.

Question D would have done away with the at-large seats entirely, creating a council made up of nine single-member districts.

Proponents of Question D argued the council does not have enough geographical representation, and that the voices of residents in the upper part of the county, or “up-county,” were being left out.


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Other local ballot measures

There were several other local ballot questions in Maryland.

According to the latest vote totals — which didn’t include all mail-in ballots or Election Day votes as of early Wednesday morning — voters in Prince George’s County were on pace to approve five bond issues on the ballot, totaling more than half a billion dollars, according to the unofficial election totals available early Wednesday.

Among the bond issues were a $133 million bond for county buildings, including construction of a new mental health and addiction care facility; $178.15 million for public works and transportation projects; $28.83 million for library design and construction; $44.48 million for police and fire department facilities; and $121.7 million for community college facilities.

In Anne Arundel County, there were seven questions on the ballot, dealing with strengthening the power of the county auditor to investigate county financial records and a measure that would require the county’s executives pick for county attorney, fire chief and police chief to be approved by the county council. 

There were three ballot questions in Howard County, including a measure to allow the county council to set new dates for appointing members of a council redistricting commission, shortening the length of most terms for service on county boards from five years to three years, and amending the county charter to expand and clarify the county’s employment discrimination policies. All were set to pass.

In Frederick County, there were four ballot questions, including a measure requiring the county executive to hand over information requested by individual council members, a measure tightening the county’s borrowing limitations, and a measure to set special elections processes to fill vacancies on the county council and in the county executive position. All were set to easily pass.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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