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Baltimore City voters to decide majority needed to override mayoral veto

Posted at 6:23 PM, Oct 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-05 18:25:03-04

BALTIMORE — Ballots are in the mail, or already in the hands of voters, but on many of them, there’s an error.

The error only affects Baltimore City voters, and it impacts the city council’s ability to override a mayor’s veto.

“We have the strongest mayor of any city in the United States of America,” said Councilman Bill Henry (D-District 4).

Henry sponsored the charter amendment bill, or Ballot Question G, that would alter the number of votes needed to override a mayoral veto.

Currently, three-fourths, or 12 of the 15 council members, are needed to override a mayor’s veto. Henry wants that changed to two-thirds, or 10 votes.

“Any real city, we could not find one that requires as high of a threshold as three-fourths,” Henry said.

The Maryland General Assembly requires three-fifths in both chambers to override a governor’s veto. In Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, and DC it takes two-thirds majority vote.

The Baltimore City Council first introduced legislation last year, but in June, it was vetoed by Mayor Jack Young.

The council then overrode the mayor’s veto to get the question on the ballot.

“I know it’s ironic. If you had to override the veto to get it on the ballot, why do you need it? And the answer is clear. We were able to get many of the veto overrides that we’ve gotten because they were around charter amendments, they were around structure of government itself,” said Henry.

WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii asked Henry about his motivations for the change and whether it was prompted by any particular issue.

“In all candor, it’s not one particular vote that brought this to my attention,” Henry said.

He added that it has to do with the uneven power dynamic and ensuring the will of the people prevails.

Sofastaii reached out to Mayor Young's office for comment on this story, but didn't immediately hear back.

Error on the ballot
When reading this question, voters may notice there’s other language eliminating the mayor’s line item veto power on items of appropriation.

Henry said this was removed in the legislative process, but it still ended up on the ballot.

“For whatever reason, when the City certified the ballot language and sent it to the state board of elections, they used the description from the intro copy instead of using the description from the third reader, final passed copy and so the wrong information went to the state,” said Henry.

By the time the error was caught, the deadline to make changes had passed.

“We were assured by lawyers that no matter what the language on the ballot says, it’s referring to the version of the charter amendment that was actually passed by the city council,” Henry said.

That means if voters bubble in “For the Charter Amendment” on Question G, they are voting to reduce the majority needed to override a mayoral veto from three-fourths to two-thirds.

Mail-in voters will receive a separate page with the correct language while in-person voters will see the notice in all voting booths.

Baltimore City voters will also have the option to expand the powers of the council when it comes to the budget, allow members to remove elected officials, change veto timing, and create a city administrator position.