Judge dis­misses suit ask­ing re­run of Bal­ti­more’s pri­mary elec­tion

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - By Car­rie Wells cwells@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/cwellssun

A fed­eral judge has thrown out a law­suit that sought a redo of Bal­ti­more’s pri­mary elec­tion, con­clud­ing in part that the plain­tiffs waited too long to file the com­plaint.

The plain­tiffs, led by mem­bers of Vot­ers Or­ga­nized for the In­tegrity of City Elec­tions — or VOICE — ar­gued that a new pri­mary should be held be­cause of al­leged ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and a “vote-buy­ing scheme.”

But U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar said the plain­tiffs had un­rea­son­ably de­layed both fil­ing and then serv­ing the law­suit to the de­fen­dants, the city and state elec­tions boards.

The law­suit was filed in U.S. District Court on June 1, weeks af­ter the April pri­mary elec­tion and af­ter a dead­line to file such a com­plaint in state court. The plain­tiffs also did not serve the de­fen­dants un­til six weeks af­ter the law­suit was filed, the judge said.

“Plain­tiffs dis­played no ur­gency at all in their prose­cu­tion of this suit,” Bredar wrote in his dis­missal last week. There­fore, he wrote, the pri­mary’s re­sults “will not be dis­turbed.”

Arm­stead B.C. Jones Sr., di­rec­tor of the Bal­ti­more City Board of Elec­tions, said he was grat­i­fied by the de­ci­sion.

“I had no doubt from the be­gin­ning that it was go­ing to be dis­missed,” Jones said. “From what I read, it had no merit.”

The law­suit said vot­ing was sup­pressed at polling places that opened late. It also al­leged that state Sen. Cather­ine E. Pugh, win­ner of the Demo­cratic pri­mary for mayor, ran a “vote-buy­ing scheme” tar­get­ing mi­nor­ity vot­ers, who were bused to early-vot­ing cen­ters and of­fered food af­ter applying for jobs with Pugh’s cam­paign.

Pugh did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

The law­suit al­leged that those prob­lems dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected black peo­ple, be­cause they make up a ma­jor­ity of city vot­ers. Bredar con­cluded that the plain­tiffs didn’t demon­strate that non­black vot­ers weren’t also af­fected by the ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties.

Has­san Gior­dano, an or­ga­nizer for VOICE and a plain­tiff, said he was dis­ap­pointed with the judge’s de­ci­sion. He said it was un­fair that the judge took months to dis­miss the law­suit when the plain­tiffs had been cited for their lack of time­li­ness.

“Judge Bredar’s de­ci­sion to dis­miss our law­suit based on a tech­ni­cal­ity in­stead of bring­ing it to court for every­one to see is trou­bling,” Gior­dano said. “Elec­tions are the bedrock and cor­ner­stone of our democ­racy, and for some­thing that’s clearly wrong ... you would think they would want to ex­pe­dite the process to not get it wrong again.”

VOICE plans to sta­tion mon­i­tors at the polls on Elec­tion Day.

Gior­dano said the plain­tiffs had not de­ter­mined whether they could or would file an ap­peal.

Two can­di­dates who lost in the pri­mary also signed on to the law­suit: Char­lie Metz, a Demo­crat who ran for City Coun­cil, and Wil­liam T. New­ton, a Re­pub­li­can run­ning in the 7th Con­gres­sional District. Metz lost the party’s nom­i­na­tion for the South Bal­ti­more District 10 coun­cil seat by 130 votes. New­ton lost the Re­pub­li­can nom­i­na­tion for the House seat by 45 votes.

A re­leased felon, Dwayne Ben­bow, also was a plain­tiff. He said elec­tion judges ques­tioned his right to vote for 40 min­utes, de­spite a new state law al­low­ing felons to cast a bal­lot. He ul­ti­mately cast a pro­vi­sional bal­lot.

Former Bal­ti­more Mayor Sheila Dixon, who came in sec­ond in the Demo­cratic pri­mary, was not a plain­tiff in the law­suit. But she said in a state­ment that she was dis­ap­pointed by the judge’s de­ci­sion.

“The right to vote is the most fun­da­men­tal right a cit­i­zen has in this coun­try, and is a sa­cred right that should be pro­tected at all lev­els,” said Dixon, who an­nounced last week she would run a write-in cam­paign for mayor. “With­out any ju­di­cial re­lief, I would pray that the state and city board of elec­tions has a bet­ter plan of ac­tion in place dur­ing the up­com­ing gen­eral elec­tion, to en­sure that the level of in­com­pe­tency we ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing the pri­mary elec­tions doesn’t hap­pen again this Novem­ber.”

Jones said he has re­cruited more elec­tion judges to work on Elec­tion Day, Nov. 8. Dur­ing the pri­mary, many elec­tion judges did not show up for their shifts.

“Those things that I can con­trol, we’re work­ing on to make sure things are bet­ter,” Jones said. “I look for­ward to a great elec­tion.”

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