La Plata teen denied council run due to age requirement
Primary election will determine Ward 2 candidates
La Plata resident Jonathan D. Norris, 17, recently filed his candidacy for the Ward 2 council seat but was informed by the Town of La Plata Board of Supervisors of Elections that because of his age, he was ineligible to run.
“I wanted to run because it’s time to see fresh leadership on the town council. I want to help improve the sign code for businesses because it shouldn’t be pages and pages long. Also, there needs to be new ideas and new leadership in La Plata,” Norris said.
Norris officially filed his candidacy for the Ward 2 council seat on Feb. 24.
A Primary Election will be held on Monday, March 20, at the La Plata Town Hall, between the hours of noon and 8 p.m. For Ward 2, the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes shall be named and considered as nominees at the General municipal election to be held May 2.
According to Town Clerk Danielle Mandley, the Town Charter Section C7-9 regarding the Primary Election provides for the holding of a primary election if more than two candidates file for any one of the five town council offices up for election. The names that are officially on the ballot for Ward 2 primary election are Councilman Keith Back, Brent Finagin and Jon W. Norris, father of Jonathan D. Norris, who has decided to run in his son’s place.
“I admire the Indian Head mayor, Brandon Paulin, who is 21 years old now. We both are interested in municipal government at a young age. [Paulin] looked at all the people who had been on the town council for years and ran and won. Now he’s changing Indian Head,” Norris said.
However, after careful consideration from the town’s Board of Supervisors of Elections it was determined that he did not meet the age requirements to run. Norris found this to be unjust since his birthday is on Jan. 24 and he would be 18 years old by the time the state and county general elections will occur in November 2018. Although he would not be 18 years old by the time the town’s general election occurred in May this year.
In a letter to the Board of Supervisors of Elections Norris said, “I was notified by the Town Clerk and member of the Board of Supervisors of Elections, Danielle Mandley, that due to the Town’s interpretation of State Election Law, I am unable to vote in the upcoming Town Election and therefore am not a “qualified voter. I disagree with this interpretation and wish to appeal this decision in accordance with Town Charter C7-7.”
Norris’ appeal concerning the decision to reject his certificate of nomination for councilman of Ward 2 was taken into consideration by Mayor Roy G. Hale and the town council. The appeal was overseen by the town’s attorney, Fred Sussman, at a board of elections meeting on March 13.
Councilman Lynn Gilroy recused himself since he openly showed support for Councilman Keith Back, a Ward 2 candidate who is running for re-election.
According to Norris, neither the town code or charter mentioned any age restriction for being placed on the town election ballot and being allowed to run for and hold office. He said the Board of Supervisors of Elections’ reference to article 3-102 of the State Election Law was very vague because no other municipal election other than in Baltimore City mentions a specific age for being eligible to run or hold office.
Kevin Karpinski, an attorney for the La Plata Board of Supervisors of Elections, said it is more of an issue of interpretation of the law and that the Town of La Plata has specifically adopted the voter and election age requirements under state law.
“Clearly Norris is not qualified to be a candidate, and it begins with Article 1 Section 1 of the Maryland Constitution which states that you have to be 18 years or older and be a resident of the state. He can vote in the primary election which candidates are nominated for a general election that will occur when the individual is 18, but for this situation he would need to be 18 by the time of the general election in the Town of La Plata,” Karpinski said.
Karpinski said under state law individuals can begin the process of registering to vote at 16 years old but the law also states that the individuals are put in a pending category.
Mandley said she confirmed the decision about Norris’ ineligibility to run with Tracy Dickerson, election director of Charles County Board of Elections.
“Motor Voter Law is a state law stating that someone can register to vote at the age of 16 years old through MVA or by other means. The difference between registering to vote and being eligible to vote are two separate things. Although someone can register at the age of 16 that does not mean that they are eligible to vote. Prior to each election cycle we send out at least 30-45 days before a general election letters to anyone that was not eligible to vote in the upcoming election,” Dickerson said.
The town council affirmed the recommendation of the Board of Supervisors of Elections — Jonathan is not eligible to run for the Ward 2 council seat. Hale said unfortunately “the rules are what they are,” but it doesn’t take away from what Jonathan planned to do by stepping up to get involved in his town.
“The fact that he has a desire to serve is extremely commendable and that he would be willing to step up and actually file and be willing to run for a position on the town council,” Hale said. “The current members of the town council have been on the council for quite a while and they fully understand the town requirements to do that. At his age being willing to accept that responsibility is remarkable.”
Norris said he wished he was informed that “the appeal was a courtroom setting and not a town council meeting.” He claims he did not have assistance from a seasoned election attorney as the town council did, but he will be much more prepared in the future.
“I would have worked hard for the town but I can pretty much guarantee in 2021 I’ll be back trying to run again,” Norris said.
He is not not too disappointed because his father, Jon Norris, has decided to run as a Ward 2 candidate instead.
“The town was very unclear about what the appeal procedure would be like for my son but I’ve already filed to run for the Ward 2 council seat and my son’s name will no longer be on the ballot. He will dedicate his time and energy to assisting me as I run,” Jon said.
La Plata resident Jonathan Norris, 17, filed his candidacy for the Ward 2 council seat but was informed by the town’s Board of Supervisors of Elections that he was not eligible to run.