La Plata teen de­nied coun­cil run due to age re­quire­ment

Pri­mary elec­tion will de­ter­mine Ward 2 can­di­dates

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com Twit­ter: Tif­fIndyNews

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.

STAFF PHOTO BY TIF­FANY WAT­SON

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.

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