Ballot bid by Greens rejected by court

Insufficient time to certify petition names, judge says

Appeal likely by new party

Carroll County

September 26, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

With days to go before Carroll County's general election ballots must go to print, a judge yesterday denied a last-ditch effort by the Green Party to run a candidate for commissioner.

Carroll Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway said he sympathized with the Green Party's effort to show that elections officials wrongly tossed out signatures from a petition to place its candidate on the Nov. 5 ballot.

But because the injunction was filed Monday - and the deadline for submitting ballots for printing is four days off - he said he did not have time to review the signatures in question.

Green Party attorneys, who are fighting to see George W. Murphy III on the ballot, said they will "almost certainly appeal" Galloway's ruling today.

"We would ask the Court of Appeals for emergency relief, so that the county does not print the ballots without Murphy's name," said Frank M. Dunbaugh, attorney for the Green Party.

To further complicate matters, the loser of the Democratic primary for the House of Delegates in District 4B has until 5 p.m. today to demand a recount in a race that was decided by three votes.

Carroll election officials ruled last month that Murphy, a teacher's aide from Sykesville, had failed to submit the number of validated signatures required for him to be placed on the ballot.

He had delivered 1,006 signatures to the board Aug. 8, a few hours before the deadline. The board later validated only 822 of those signatures - 18 short of the 840, or 1 percent of registered voters in Carroll, that Murphy needed.

"This was a genuine petition drive," Murphy said. "All the party is seeking is a fair review."

The board of elections said yesterday in court that it had erred on one page of the petition, and it credited those seven signatures to Murphy. That took the deficit to 11, according to elections officials.

"I think the Green Party will be successful in this petition," Murphy said. "I think I will be on the ballot. This is quite a turn of events."

Murphy, who ran unsuccessfully for county commissioner four years ago as a Republican, said he expects to resume campaigning.

Under state law, independent candidates or those not affiliated with a party that nominates by primary vote must gather signatures to be on the ballot.

The fledgling Maryland Green Party has asked the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, to declare the law unconstitutional, contending that it makes it nearly impossible for alternative-party candidates to get on ballots.

David Stysley, Murphy's campaign manager, filed the injunction Monday in Carroll Circuit Court, claiming that the board "incorrectly rejected signatures of many of the Carroll County registered voters" who signed the petition. In court yesterday, he submitted documentation that he said showed at least 24 signatures were incorrectly denied.

Ten signatures were from voters the board considers inactive. Others were denied because addresses given were post office boxes or because of a name change. One was an illegible signature. One couple had shortened their name, making both signatures invalid.

"These are all fully registered voters, and they cannot be negated in any way," said Dunbaugh, the Green party lawyer. "Signing these petitions is part of the electoral process. I can't understand why the state is trying so hard to keep voters from voting. These people are doing their darndest to disqualify as many voters as they can."

Patricia Matsko, Carroll's elections board director, said she cannot legally accept signatures from inactive voters, those without street addresses or those who have changed their names. About 90 Carroll residents are registered as members of the Green Party.

"There are multiple legal reasons for denying a signature," she said. "We followed state law."

Matsko said she is awaiting direction from the state on what to do about Carroll's ballot. She said Monday is the "drop-dead deadline" for her office to submit a ballot for printing.

"If this is appealed, the court must decide in a timely manner," she said. "Nothing can stop the election."

Stysley said he is willing to continue with the appeal.

"I want ballot access for the Green Party," said Stysley, who is the party's chairman in Carroll County. "I think George Murphy has a chance. We met a lot of people when we were collecting these petitions who are upset with the commissioners."

Voters ousted incumbent Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier in the Republican primary. Three Democrats, three Republicans and one independent who submitted enough valid signatures will run in November.

In District 4B, which includes parts of western Carroll and eastern Frederick counties, Democrat Thomas Morrison holds a slim lead over Robert Lubitz. Morrison gained one more vote Friday - increasing his margin to three - after the election board reviewed 10 overseas ballots, which were originally invalidated for illegible postmarks. Matsko determined that state law allows those votes to be counted if they were mailed in a timely manner - at least one day before the Sept. 10 primary.

Two of those 10 ballots involved voters from 4B. One vote went to Morrison, a salesman from Westminster. The other was cast too late to be counted.

The vote count was certified Monday, meaning Lubitz has until 5 p.m. today to demand a recount. He would have to pay the approximately $5,000 cost, and the board would have to recount votes within 48 hours of Lubitz's request.

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