Guardsman, military advocates sue election board

They say military, overseas voters need absentee ballots sooner

September 26, 2010|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

A member of the Maryland National Guard has filed a federal lawsuit against the State Board of Elections, claiming military personnel and other overseas Marylanders could be denied the opportunity to vote for state offices in the general election unless the court intervenes.

In the lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, the anonymous guardsman identified as Officer John Doe says the state did not give overseas voters enough time to obtain and return ballots for statewide offices in the Nov. 2 elections, which include the contest for governor.

Joining as co-plaintiff is the Military Voter Protection Project, Eric Eversole, the Navy judge advocate general who heads the Washington-based organization, says the ballots for federal offices that the Maryland board sent a few days after this month's primary elections were not valid.

Results of the Sept. 14 primary have not yet been certified; for the seat now held by Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ballots include provisions to mark either of two Republican challengers who are locked in a tight primary contest.

Eversole worked in the voting section of the civil rights division of the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration, and advised the John McCain-Sarah Palin campaign on military voting matters. He said the lawsuit was not motivated by partisanship.

Ross Goldstein, deputy director of the elections board, declined to comment directly on the lawsuit. But he said the Justice Department and military authorities signed off on the office's plan to send out ballots for congressional offices quickly after the primaries. A 2009 federal law requires that ballots for federal races be available to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before an election.

The Military Voter Protection Project is asking a federal judge to order that ballots be sent by Oct. 8 and to extend the deadline for counting them to Nov. 22.

Elections officials plan to send full absentee ballots to the affected voters by mid-October. The ballots must be returned to the state board by Nov. 12. Primary results are to be certified Monday; challenges are possible.

Maryland holds primary elections only seven weeks before the general election, the briefest interim in the nation. Elections officials had sought a waiver from the federal Military and Overseas Empowerment Act requirement before withdrawing the request.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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