Judge delays mailing of ballots to residents of nursing homes Group fears fraud

order affects city, four counties

October 14, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

At the urging of a group working to ensure the integrity of the Maryland election, a federal judge in Baltimore has temporarily stopped the mass mailing of absentee ballots to nursing home residents in the city and four rural counties.

Citizens for Democratic Elections says such distributions can lead to voter fraud by nursing home administrators.

U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson issued a temporary restraining order yesterday prohibiting the election boards in Baltimore and in Frederick, Queen Anne's, Caroline and Dorchester counties from mailing the ballots.

A full hearing on the matter is likely next week, attorneys involved in the case said.

The voter integrity group wants to ensure that the city and the four counties have security measures ready in the nursing homes before absentee ballots are distributed.

"The name of the game is basically protecting the voting rights of senior citizens," said Patrick J. O'Brien, a Montgomery County attorney who is handling the suit.

The judge's order applies to the five jurisdictions in Maryland that had not mailed absentee ballots to nursing homes.

Five other counties have mailed the ballots, and 14 use a different method to deliver ballots to nursing home residents.

Prince George's County, for example, sends a team of two election board employees to deliver and collect ballots at nursing homes, said Robert Antonetti, the county's election administrator.

Kathleen Hoke Dachille, an assistant attorney general who advises the state election board, said the board recommended in the spring that the 24 local boards adopt procedures to increase the security surrounding the distribution of absentee ballots to nursing homes.

For jurisdictions with no security provisions, the lawsuit could be the "inspiration" to implement such provisions, Dachille said.

She said local election officials have "every confidence" in the nursing home staffs they deal with concerning absentee ballots. The state election board has received no complaints from nursing home residents about voter fraud, she said.

Pub Date: 10/14/98

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