Md. Green Party to argue that law on ballot access is unconstitutional

November 29, 2001|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The fledgling Maryland Green Party will ask the state's highest court today to declare unconstitutional a law that the party contends makes it nearly impossible for alternative-party candidates to get on ballots.

The Green Party, certified as a political party in Maryland last year, is arguing to the Maryland Court of Appeals that the state's ballot-access law does not meet the standards set by the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1983 said states must be able to justify ballot-access restrictions.

"This case is about democracy," said David M. Gross of Arnold, who unsuccessfully sought a spot on the ballot last year, when he tried to run for the 1st District congressional seat held by Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest.

Election officials said he did not have the signatures of 1 percent of district voters, as required under Maryland law. The state has countered that the law squares with guidelines set by the Supreme Court in 1971 and is designed to ensure that its ballots are orderly.

"The Supreme Court has said that a state can require that a candidate show a reasonable degree of support to get on the ballot. And that is all Maryland has done," said Michael D. Berman, deputy chief of litigation for the state attorney general's office.

Maryland law makes a distinction between party recognition and candidate recognition for upstarts. To win party certification, the Greens had to file petitions with signatures of 10,000 voters in the state and adopt party bylaws. That has gotten the Greens listed on voter registration forms, but next year they will have to again collect signatures of 1 percent of voters in the state to keep that status. That process continues until 1 percent of Maryland voters affiliate with the Greens.

Getting candidates onto the ballot is a separate matter. The Greens fielded a candidate for an alderman's seat in the Annapolis election this month. That candidate, Isaac Opalinsky, attracted about 40 percent of the vote.

Gross' challenge of election officials' decision to bar him from the ballot last year prompted a lawsuit in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, where a judge upheld the ballot-access law. The Greens appealed, and the Court of Appeals took the case.

Separate signatures for a full slate would require about 30,000 signatures for each candidate for a statewide office, they maintain.

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