Candidate seeks change in ballot law

City council hopeful wants Green Party affiliation listed

Seeks 1st Ward seat

Opalinsky says code maintains `political status quo' in city

September 25, 2001|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Isaac Opalinsky collected more than twice the number of signatures required to run for the Annapolis city council. He began holding campaign receptions, collecting money, turning in finance reports.

Now the man who would be the first Green Party candidate to run in a Maryland election has been told he won't be Green on the ballot after all.

City election officials have told Opalinsky that a reading of city law shows that his party affiliation must be kept off the ballot. Instead, he would be listed under the heading "other candidates," like the city's two independent council candidates.

Opalinsky, who had hoped his race in the city's 1st Ward would boost his party's profile in the state, is lobbying for changes in a law that he describes as unfair.

"The law freezes the political status quo," Opalinsky, 24, said in an interview yesterday. "There is no process in the city for a third party, like the Green Party, to get a foothold."

Last night, he suggested at a city council meeting that he might take legal action if the law is not changed.

"The city needs to act expeditiously to keep this matter out of the courts," he told the council.

The head of the city election board agrees that the law should be changed.

"It isn't apparent to me how a third party would ever get on the ballot," said election board Chairman Richard E. Israel.

Under city code, for a political party to be recognized on the ballot it must have received at least 3 percent of the vote in the previous municipal election.

Opalinsky complains that even if he receives more than 3 percent of the vote while running under the "other candidates" heading -- and not as a Green Party candidate -- the party would not be recognized on the ballot in the next election, under the law.

Israel said he agrees with that interpretation. The election board has asked City Attorney Paul Goetzke for an opinion on the legality of the city law.

Opalinsky, who is co-chairman of the state Green Party, says the law might be unconstitutional because it does not provide political parties with equal access to the ballot.

`Holds the party back'

"This law holds the party back," Opalinsky said. "When people go to the polls they will not have the opportunity to vote for a Green Party candidate. The party is deprived of name recognition."

Opalinsky also complained that if he were to be elected without Green Party recognition, the party would not be able to name his successor if he were unable to finish his term.

The party's presidential candidate in the 2000 election, Ralph Nader, won almost 3.5 percent of the Annapolis vote. The Green Party was officially recognized as a political party by the state in August last year.

The Green Party is suing the state over its ballot access law after a Green Party candidate's petition to run for Congress last year was rejected.

Support from opponent

Opalinsky said he has received tentative support from some council members for his suggestion that Annapolis law be changed to require the city to recognize any party recognized by the state, and hopes the law can be changed in time for the Nov. 6 general election.

At last night's council meeting, his Democratic opponent for the 1st Ward seat, Alderman Louise Hammond, offered to sponsor legislation to change the law. There is no Republican candidate in Ward 1.

Argument for change

Israel, the election board chairman, said that even if the city attorney finds no legal reason to change the law, there are other reasons for the city to consider a change.

"I think as a policy matter it would be a good idea for party affiliations to appear on the ballot so voters know who they are voting for," he said.

The election board will discuss the matter at its meeting next month.

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