Maryland Court of Appeals to hear ballot access case

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January 31, 2012

Maryland

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland: The Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's high court, announced that it will hear arguments in a ballot access case over the state's methods of validating petition signatures on March 2nd.[1] The original lawsuit was brought in April 2011 by the Libertarian and Green parties of Maryland; it named the State Board of Elections (SBE), and Linda Lamone as Administrator of the SBE, as defendants. The suit claimed that thousands of signatures were improperly invalidated by the SBE and sought validation of those signatures - which would allow the parties to put candidates on the ballot in Maryland during the 2012-2014 election cycle.

Each party submitted approximately 15,000 signatures to the State Board of Elections for validation in March 2011 - 50% more than the 10,000-signature minimum needed to gain access to the ballot. The State Board of Elections invalidated approximately 60% of both the Libertarian and Green party's signatures due largely to signature and printed name irregularities - reasons the parties claimed was improper. The original lawsuit offered the following example: "If a voter who is registered as John Henry Smith printed his name as “John Smith” while signing it as “John H. Smith,” the SBE Guidelines directed local boards to invalidate the entry because the middle initial was missing from the printed name, even though it was present in the signed name."[2] The suit went on to explain:
"Interestingly, the scrutiny demanded by the SBE Guidelines would lead to the invalidation of the signatures and “full” names customarily used by Governor Martin O’Malley (who does not sign his middle initial), Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (who abbreviated their first names when they signed them), Presidents Stephen Grover Cleveland, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, and John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. (none of whom used or signed their given first names), and Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton (who used and signed nicknames). Indeed, seven of the last eight U.S. presidents, as well as the current Governor of Maryland, customarily sign or signed their names in ways that would make their support for a new party petition invalid under the SBE Guidelines."

In June 2011 Maryland's Fifth Circuit Court issued a summary judgement in favor of the plaintiffs, a decision that allowed the Libertarian and Green parties to put candidates on the 2012 Maryland ballot. Maryland's Attorney General's Office soon after filed an appeal on behalf of the State Board of Elections. On March 2nd the Maryland Court of Appeals will hear arguments on whether it should let the original judgement stand or overturn the lower court's ruling. How the high court rules will impact elections in Maryland for years to come.

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