WASHINGTON – A year after they sued the State Board of Elections over third-party petition requirements, Maryland Green Party candidates are still waiting for a ruling — and holding out hope that they will be on the Nov. 5 ballot.
The party recently filed a motion with the Maryland Court of Appeals for expedited relief. But elections officials said Friday a ruling now might not do any good.
“A decision at this point would be too late,” said Donna Duncan, the board’s director of election management. She noted that absentee ballots have already been printed or are now being printed.
If a court order did come, she said, the board would only then determine how to comply, she said.
But a Green Party attorney said he would press on. He pointed out that the board is still in the process of proofing ballot designs.
“It’s as easy to add a name to the ballot as it is to go into Microsoft Word and type the name,” said Mark Miller, the attorney. “The changes could be made in 15 minutes . . . it would cost the state nothing and there are fundamental rights involved.”
At stake are the candidacies of 5th District congressional hopeful Bob Auerbach, comptroller candidate Beth Hufnagel and Morning Sunday, who is running for a General Assembly seat.
To get on the ballot in Maryland, candidates from the Republican or Democratic parties simply have to file with the elections board. An unaffiliated candidate must get signatures from 1 percent of the registered voters in his or her jurisdiction to get on the ballot.
While the Maryland Green Party is officially registered in the state, its candidates are being held to the same eligibility requirements as unaffiliated candidates.
Miller said the petition requirements are “not procedural requirements, but a serious logistical burden.” That burden alone has kept some Greens off the ballot, while others have filed the required petitions only to have the elections board disqualify enough signatures to leave them short of the 1 percent mark.
That was the case with a Green candidate running for Carroll County commissioner. The Court of Appeals ordered his name on the ballot last week, agreeing that the elections board had incorrectly interpreted its petition requirement.
But while that case dealt with procedural questions, the pending case — Maryland Green Party v. Maryland Board of Elections — poses a constitutional challenge to the petition requirement.
“When you do a constitutional analysis it is not sufficient to say, `It’s the law,'” Miller said.
The Board of Elections refused to comment on either pending case or the constitutionality of their position.
Frank Dunbaugh, another attorney for the Greens, was hard pressed to say why the court has not acted on the nearly year-old case.
“You cannot get inside the minds of seven judges,” Dunbaugh said of the appeals court.
He finds the minds of state legislators far more accessible. Dunbaugh pointed out that one-third of Maryland state legislators ran unopposed in the general election.
“The difficulty is that the legislators themselves benefit from the system,” Dunbaugh said. He said that as long as the “duopoly” system persists in Maryland, “there may be a spirited fight in the primary” but the general election ballots will be predictable.
Auerbach, the would-be congressional candidate, does not expect the court to act in time for his name to appear on the ballot. The retired librarian, who has never been registered with either major political party, is running a write- in campaign to unseat 5th District Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville.
“There is practically no chance they will issue an opinion before the elections,” Auerbach said.