Princess Anne ends ACLU suit by agreeing to repeal voting law SOMERSET COUNTY

April 21, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

Yielding to pressure from the ACLU of Maryland, Princess Anne has agreed to repeal a law that allowed nonresident property owners to vote in municipal elections.

The Somerset County town reached an out-of-court settlement with the state's American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a federal lawsuit Feb. 16 challenging the voting law.

"We're really pleased it was resolved this quickly," said Elliott D. Andalman, a lawyer for the ACLU.

The consent decree, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, was signed yesterday by Senior Judge Joseph H. Young.

In a related matter, the Pocomoke City Council agreed Monday night to repeal a similar law allowing nonresidents to vote, said City Manager Russell Blake. That action came in response to an ACLU request.

The ACLU said property-qualified voting laws weaken the voting strength of poor blacks and enhance the power of wealthy property owners, most of whom are white.

In Princess Anne, which has a population of 1,666, nearly 12 percent of registered voters live elsewhere.

The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of Craig Mathies, a black resident of Princess Anne and vice president of the Somerset County NAACP. He claimed in the suit that the town's law violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Maryland law by diluting black voting strength. The lawsuit caused an outcry in Princess Anne, and the town's elected officials voted to fight the matter in court.

Mr. Andalman said the controversy diminished "when the town looked at this objectively."

The ACLU has asked several towns in Maryland to repeal laws that allow nonresidents to vote. Property-qualified voting exists in Salisbury, Berlin, Crisfield, Secretary, North East and Rising Sun.

Fruitland, Centreville and Snow Hill are in the process of abolishing their provisions for nonresident voting, the ACLU said.

Stuart Comstock-Gay, executive director of the state's ACLU, said Princess Anne acknowledged its law violated the 14th Amendment.

"It is an archaic way of voting," Mr. Comstock-Gay said.

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