The Court of Appeals yesterday ruled that the Baltimore Board of Elections acted properly when it refused to carry out an order by the state elections board to remove more than 32,000 names from the city's voter registration rolls.
The court upheld a decision by Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan, who ruled that changes in state laws nullified the state elections board's March 29 order to purge voters who had failed to vote in the past five years.
The lawyer for the Baltimore elections board said the ruling -- a one-sentence order issued a day after oral arguments -- clears the way for a smooth city election Sept. 12.
Deputy Attorney General Ralph S. Tyler III, who represented the city elections board, said it means city election officials may continue their "voter verification mailing" to determine which of 90,000 registered city residents -- including the 32,000 in question -- still live at the addresses listed in their registration records.
The mailing had been proceeding under an order by Judge Kaplan, over legal objections filed as part of the case by the state elections board, Mr. Tyler said.
"The point is that the law in our state, and in the United States, is that failure to vote is no longer grounds for losing your right to vote, and that the state's order to purge was illegal," he said.
The decision was described as a blow to the election process by a Republican member of the state elections board.
"This ruling is totally against the equal protection rights of all Marylanders," said Republican board member Daniel J. Earnshaw.
At the urging of Mr. Earnshaw, the board has been pressing for an investigation of the city board since GOP candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey lost the governor's race in November by only 5,993 votes.
Mr. Earnshaw, a Harford County lawyer and one of two Republicans on the five-member state board, said yesterday it is unlikely the ruling will be appealed to the federal courts.
He said it is more likely that he will be replaced by Gov. Parris N. Glendening when his term on the elections board expires at the end of the month.
"What it means is the Maryland attorney general and the courts of this state have failed to acknowledge that a fraudulent election took place in 1994," Mr. Earnshaw said.
Lawyers for the state elections board had argued that the voters' names should have been removed in March because city elections officials failed to adhere to 1994 law by purging before the 1994 election people who had not voted in the previous five years.
Under a state law no longer in effect, the names should have been removed from city voting rolls last year, as part of the "five-year purge" requirement.
City officials said they did not remove them because of the heavy workload of the 1994 election year.
Judge Kaplan ruled May 23 that state laws that required removal of the names, the "five-year purge" law, had been amended as of Jan. 1 to mirror the federal "motor-voter" law.