WNST.net exclusive: AA County Elections Board throws out 10,559 signatures opposing slots

February 24, 2010 | Drew Forrester

This is better than any Triple Crown race.

Or, at the very least, much more difficult to handicap.

Today, David Cordish earned the “win” money, as the Anne Arundel County Board of Supervisors of Elections, perhaps fearful of a lawsuit from Cordish, has thrown out 10,559 of 23,695 signatures collected by the group – Citizens Against Slots At The Mall.  Those signatures were collected by the group in an attempt to have the County slots license currently planned for zoning at Arundel Mills Mall put back on the November ballot for a vote by the citizens of Anne Arundel County.

WNST.net has obtained a memo sent out today by Joseph A. Torre III (Director) to the Anne Arundel County Council, in which Torre provides the raw numbers that have been approved and ruled invalid:

> 23,695 signatures (opposing slots at Arundel Mills Mall) were presented to the Board and were reviewed

> 13,136 were approved

> 10,559 were ruled invalid

The group must have at least 18,790 signatures – approved – in order for the slots license vote to be put on the November ballot.

Here is the ruling, directly from the memo distributed by Torre, on what provisions the Board will now make to allow the citizens group to obtain the remaining 8,231 signatures.

Pursuant to the Anne Arundel County Charter, Article III, The Legislative Branch, Section 308, The Referendum, the Board received more than one-half but less than the full number of signatures required to complete a referendum petition against Anne Arundel County Bill number 82-09, filed within forty-five days from the date it became law.  Therefore, time for filing the remainder of signatures to complete the petition shall be extended for another thirty days with like effect.  As such, the filing deadline for a second submittal of signatures is the close of business on March 8, 2010.

So it’s back to work for the citizens group and the Maryland Jockey Club, who helped fund the signature-drive with a combination of volunteers and paid employees who canvassed Arundel Mills Mall and other points in Anne Arundel County throughout the month of January.

All the groups involved — David Cordish, Citizens against Slots at The Mall and the Maryland Jockey Club were offered the opportunity to comment on this subject and only the Jockey Club provided WNST.net with a comment.

“Rather than worry about lawsuits and what not, shouldn’t we all be concerned with finding out what the citizens of Anne Arundel County really want with regard to slots at Arundel Mills Mall?” said Tom Chuckas, President of the Maryland Jockey Club.  “Our findings speak loudly.  The numbers say ‘no, we don’t want slots at Arundel Mills’ and we’re confident in presenting the signatures to the Board of Elections.”

While Chuckas and the citizens group apparently did put in plenty of overtime to come up with 23,695 signatures, the Board’s ruling on Wednesday sends them back to the streets with pen and paper in hand to gather more than 8,000 additional signatures in the next two weeks.

The citizens group began their efforts just after the holiday season.  Cordish, who won zoning approval for his proposed Arundel Mills Mall location in late December, immediately started the legal process as soon as it appeared the group would garner enough signatures to put the vote back to the citizens in November.

His lawsuit claims the Board of Elections failed to properly execute the process of determining if, in fact, the signatures presented to the board were all legitimate and legal in the state of Maryland.

As an example, if you’re a registered voter in the state of Maryland and you’re registered to vote under the name “David A. Davis”, your signature must be “David A. Davis” to be considered “legal” by the state of Maryland.  If the signature on the petition sheet was merely “David Davis”, the Board ruled that signature invalid.

Cordish’s group was so determined to undermine the signature accumulation process that a forensic handwriting specialist was hired to question the fraudulent nature of signatures on the 2,968 sheets presented to the Board of Elections.

It must have worked.  Or, perhaps, the threat of a lawsuit worked, because – per the memo from Joseph A. Torre III – the Board has thrown out roughly 45% of the signatures accumulated by the citizens group.

Cordish, of course, will likely continue with his proposed lawsuit and claim that ALL of the signatures should be thrown out.  After all, if 45% of the initial collected signatures were ruled invalid, wouldn’t a judge somewhere rule that such a wide discrepancy in the numbers should result in all of them being deemed invalid?

In the end, though, Chuckas is right when he says “the only thing that really matters is for us to all find out what the citizens of Anne Arundel County want…Do they want slots at Arundel Mills or not?  If they don’t, put them somewhere else — somewhere where they approve of them and somewhere where it will benefit the county and its citizens the most.”

Chuckas, obviously, would like “somewhere else” to be at Laurel Race Track.  Then again, the tracks are still set to go to auction on March 25 and who knows how that whole thing is going to shake out next month if – and it’s been delayed four times now – the tracks finally go to the high bidder.

Cordish, for now at least, still owns the Anne Arundel County slots license.

But if the citizens group collects another 8,231 signatures (and they’re approved by the Board) by March 8, he might not have it for long.