Aclu Challenges Ruling Banning Write-in Stickers

January 06, 1991|By Paul Shread | Paul Shread,Staff writer

In late 1989, former Annapolis Mayor Dennis M. Callahan abandoned a write-in campaign for mayor after the city board of elections ruled that stickers bearing candidates' names couldn't be used because they would jam voting machines.

Now the Maryland Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is contending that the stickers wouldn't havebeen a problem.

In a letter to City Clerk Patty Bembe dated Dec. 17, ACLU special projects attorney Carl Gabel said the city's voting machines would have accepted the stickers if they were smaller than 1 inches long and inch high -- the size of the opening on the machines for write-invotes.

"The use of stickers to designate the name of a write-in candidate will allow a greater degree of secrecy and privacy in the voting process, and, in certain cases, will allow the election judges to more accurately ascertain the intent of the voter," Gabel wrote.

The board of elections and the ACLU got their information from different companies that supply the same machines.

Callahan, who lost to Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins in the Democratic primary and then threatened to run a write-in campaign against him in the general election, said the letter came too late for him.

"I wish they had sent it before the election, because I would have run," Callahan said. "We had 1,800 signatures, and it wasn't even a deliberate effort."

The decision whether to allow stickers probably will rest with the City Council, which will consider election reform bills later this year.

Alderman Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, chairman of the rules committee, said he will bring up the letter when the committee reviews the elections bills. "One of the things we will be looking at is ways to make it easier for people to run write-in campaigns in the future," Snowden said.

Snowden also considered running a write-in campaign against Hopkins in November 1989, but decided against it after Hopkins adopted several minority issues Snowden had been concerned about.

Former elections board chairman Richard Israel said the board's decision to ban the stickers was based on testimony from a former state election official and Jane Snyder Suter of Snyder & Son Automatic Voting Machines Inc., of Pasadena, which supplies voting machines to the city.

Suter said Friday the machine probably would jam if a lot of people used stickers. The machine, called an AVM Printomatic, contains a paper roll that advances each time someone votes. The stickers could build up on the roll and jam the machine. Stickers also could fall off and jam the machine, she said.

"It can work at times, but if you get 500 write-ins, then there's going to be a build-up," Suter said. "We have to be prepared for the heaviest turnout."

Gabel, however, checked with a New Jersey-based company that distributes the machines,International Election Systems. That company said stickers wouldn't jam the machines, Gabel said.

Richard Smolka, a professor in the Department of Public Administration at American University who publishes a national newsletter on elections, said AVM Printomatics tend to jam when a lot of stickers are used.

City election law doesn't banthe use of stickers. Israel said the outgoing board recommended the city include specific language on stickers in the code. He also said the city should consider using the new optical-scan voting machines the county uses. Those machines can't take stickers, but people have pencils in hand when they vote.

In the meantime, Callahan may get another chance to challenge Hopkins in an election -- he said he's decided to stay in Annapolis. A Texas anti-drug group, Texans' War on Drugs, was interested in hiring him, but Callahan said he's decided notto seek the job. He said he's not sure what he's going to do in Annapolis.

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