ACLU sues over vote drives

January 12, 2007|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

Lawyers for a civil liberties group filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore yesterday that accuses the Maryland Transit Administration of imposing an unconstitutional ban on voter registration efforts at local bus stops.

In its petition for a preliminary injunction, the American Civil Liberties Union alleges that the MTA improperly required community activists to seek a "free speech" permit before trying to sign up voters on state property near bus stops. Even when a permit was obtained, the suit alleges that the community organizers were routinely barred by MTA police from registering mass transit riders.

The suit was filed on behalf of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, also known as ACORN, Project Vote/Voting for America and a current director and former activist with ACORN.

"ACORN was engaging in protected First Amendment activity," said ACLU spokeswoman Meredith Curtis.

Stuart Katzenberg, state director for ACORN, complained of harassment by state workers and said his activists had not experienced similar restrictions on state property administrated by other agencies.

"These are public spaces where we get a lot of working people who don't have time in the middle of the day to register to vote at the Board of Elections," Katzenberg said.

The MTA declined to talk about the issue yesterday.

"We don't comment on pending legal matters," said MTA spokeswoman Holly Henderson.

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