The American Civil Liberties Union failed to persuade a Circuit Court judge Monday to extend by 24 hours the deadline for voters to mail their absentee ballots to local election boards.

The suit filed by the ACLU and other parties alleged that some voters would be disenfranchised because their requests for absentee ballots were not processed by local boards in time for voters to receive them and then have them postmarked by the Monday deadline.

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Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Joseph Manck denied a motion to extend the deadline to midnight Tuesday after a brief early evening hearing in Annapolis.

David Rocha, one of the lawyers involved in bringing the case, said it would probably be Tuesday before a decision was made as to whether to appeal Manck's ruling to the Court of Appeals.

Manck was told during the hearing that absentee ballots that are not postmarked in time are kept for 22 months in case of a later challenge. Mark Davis, and assistant attorney general representing the election board, said voters who got the ballots late can either take them to local boards and cast a vote in person or use a provisional ballot that will be counted if their absentee ballot is not returned.

The lawsuit was filed after the state Board of Elections decided not to extend the deadline despite a record number of absentee ballot requests for Tuesday's election. It names two voters, one in a nursing home in Baltimore, the other a woman from Baltimore County who is a student in New York, who did not receive their absentee ballots in time to mail them Monday.

"The Board of Election's failure to remedy a known problem has called into question the integrity of Maryland's election and will result in widespread disenfranchisement among registered Maryland voters," the suit claimed.

In a canvass of the election board Friday, the three Republican members said they opposed an extension, according to Gilles Burger, the Republican board chairman. One Democrat did not take a position while the other did not reply to an e-mail Burger sent asking her opinion.

Burger said the board was concerned about making last minute changes in a year that has already included a series of new regulations.

On Sunday, a group of top Maryland Democratic lawmakers urged Gov. Robert Ehrlich to push the board for an extension. The letter was signed by Maryland's two U.S. senators; all the Democratic representatives except Ben Cardin; and Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch.

"Equity, fairness and common sense dictate an immediate modification to the regulations that govern the canvass of these ballots. Failure to take such action risks the disenfranchisement of many eligible Maryland voters," the letter states.

A spokesman for Ehrlich said the governor has not taken a position on the request.

"It's entirely a decision for the members of the Board of Election," Henry Fawell said.

As of Monday morning, 191,404 voters had requested absentee ballots and 94,290 ballots had been returned with votes. But some ballots weren't mailed to voters until Saturday, which Lamone said was "a problem."

Several top lawmakers also have urged voters to use absentee ballots following human errors and glitches with the state's electronic voting system during September's primary. The loudest voice was Ehrlich, who voted absentee last week and is in a tight race for re-election.

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