State elections board sued over petition decision

Leaders of a GOP drive to overturn early-voting law challenge the rejection of signatures

June 28, 2006|By KELLY BREWINGTON | KELLY BREWINGTON,SUN REPORTER

The leaders of a Republican-backed petition drive to overturn Maryland's early-voting law filed suit in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court yesterday, alleging that the State Board of Elections illegally disqualified part of their effort.

Marylanders for Fair Elections, a volunteer group with ties to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., filed the lawsuit in response to the board's determination last week that one part of the group's drive fell 138 signatures short of moving forward. The group also filed a request for an emergency hearing on the issue, which is scheduled for tomorrow.

The group is seeking to halt two bills enacted by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly on early voting, which allows certain polling sites to open five days before Election Day.

Petitioners need to collect 51,185 signatures to place the issue on the November ballot as a referendum. The first third were due by the end of May. The rest must be submitted by June 30.

Petitioners met the first threshold on the bill, which names the polling sites and other requirements for early voting. But last week, the elections board concluded that the group didn't have enough signatures to move forward on a petition against the second bill, which sanctions early voting.

The lawsuit states that the number of signatures for each bill "far exceeded the thresholds required by the Maryland Constitution." But officials at the Board of Elections have said some of the signatures were not from registered voters.

Thomas Roskelly, leader of Marylanders for Fair Elections, accused Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone, a Democrat, of thwarting the drive for partisan reasons. He also has called for a recount of the signatures.

"It's a misinterpretation of the law, and we think it was done quite intentionally to have a chilling effect on our volunteers," he said.

Lamone declined to comment on the lawsuit, but her office has denied any wrongdoing or partisanship.

Either way, the issue could end up in court over the question of whether petitioners launched the drive within adequate time of the bill's passage. The bill authorizing early voting was adopted last year. Ehrlich vetoed the measure, but the General Assembly voted this year to override the veto.

The attorney general's office has said that petitions must be filed immediately after a bill's initial passage.

Meanwhile, another dispute over early voting played out yesterday in Montgomery County, where elections staff verified an additional 121 signatures days after they had sent an official figure to the state board.

There are differing views about whether the county board had the legal authority to do a recount.

kelly.brewington@baltsun.com

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