Not-So-Super Tuesday for Unaffiliated Voters: ACLU Challenges Judicial Elections in Maryland

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
March 2, 2004 12:00 am

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LEONARDTOWN, MD — The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland today took over an expedited election lawsuit challenging the state’s practice of excluding unaffiliated voters from participation in judicial primaries.

“We are simply unable to conceive of any state interest that justifies denial of the vote to unaffiliated voters in a non-partisan election like this,” said ACLU staff attorney David Rocah, lead counsel in the case. “Every registered voter has the right to vote for the judges who will enforce the rule of law in their counties.”

The lawsuit, filed last week in St. Mary’s County — and scheduled for a hearing this Friday before a special three-judge court — asks that the court block certification of today’s judicial election results in St. Mary’s and Anne Arundel Counties; to schedule

new judicial primaries open to all registered voters in those counties; and to order statewide change in the procedures for conducting judicial primaries in the future.

The ACLU contends that in elections for non-partisan offices, such as judicial offices, the state is constitutionally required to let all registered voters participate in the primary election, regardless of party affiliation. The ACLU lawsuit goes on to state that the right to vote, even in a primary, is a fundamental right, which can only be denied for the most compelling reasons.

The current system’s disenfranchisement of independent voters is not minimal, the ACLU noted. According to State Board of Election figures, voters unaffiliated with either of the principal political parties make up approximately 14 percent of registered voters statewide. They also comprise approximately 15 percent of voters in St. Mary’s County, 16 percent in Anne Arundel and Frederick Counties, and 11 percent in Baltimore County — all of which held contested judicial primaries today.

Today’s ACLU action expands a lawsuit filed February 23 by St. Mary’s County resident Michael B. Suessman, on behalf of himself and approximately 6,000 independent voters in that county.

Acting independently last month, the ACLU had asked the State Board of Elections on behalf of residents in several counties to acknowledge the constitutional flaws in the current system, and to permit independent voters statewide to cast ballots today in non-partisan judicial elections. The Board declined, leading to the present litigation.

The plaintiffs are represented by David R. Rocah, Deborah A. Jeon, and Richard D. Griffiths of the ACLU of Maryland Foundation.

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