Maryland Weighs Appeal After Military Voters Win Extension for Absentee Ballots

Maryland is debating whether to appeal a court's ruling Thursday that awarded the Military Voter Protection Project its request to allow absentee ballots to be counted after the current Nov. 12 deadline.

Linda H. Lamone, state administrator of elections at the Maryland State Board of Elections, told on Friday that she did not foresee any problems with complying with the ruling, but was discussing with state Attorney General Doug Gansler and other officials whether and when an appeal would come.

"We are, of course, going to apply with the ruling even though we think its novel and unprecedented -- it's four days before the election," she said. "We probably wouldn't appeal before the elections anyway, there isn't enough time."

The U.S. District Court issued a ruling Thursday saying that the "manner in which Maryland is conducting absentee voting for state offices in the Nov. 2, 2010, election deprives absent uniformed services and overseas voters of their fundamental right to vote."

It added that the plaintiffs, which included a military service member still in Iraq, had shown that Maryland's current deadline would "severely burden" the ability of military and overseas citizens to vote. It said "the state's asserted interest in enforcing the present deadline do not justify such a burden."

As a result, overseas and military voters will be given an extra 10 days to get their votes counted. Instead of having to be received by the state Board of Elections on Nov. 12, they must return their ballots by Nov. 22.

"The federal district court judge found that Maryland's process of sending out a full ballot on Oct. 8 violated the Constitution," Eric Eversole, the attorney who filed the case, told on Friday.

The lawsuit was a reaction to Maryland's enforcement of the MOVE Act, which required states to provide absentee and military voters with ballots at least 45 days before the general election. At first, the state had sought a waiver to comply with the law, but it then withdrew the waiver and decided it could mail out federal race ballots on time.

Because Maryland held its primary on Sept. 14, local results were not certified until after the Sept.18 deadline to meet the 45-day standard. Local boards did not mail out ballots for state races until Oct. 8. The MVPP sued the next day.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he was pleased with the decision and the MVP Project's efforts.

"But I am left wondering why a private organization had to act instead of the Justice Department. It is inexcusable that the department left Maryland troops, many of whom are serving in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan, to fend for themselves. They deserve our government's gratitude for their service, not a cold shoulder when their right to vote has been jeopardized," he said.

Christian Adams, the former Justice Department attorney who gained acclaim and criticism over his claims that the Justice Department was racially biased in its decision to not prosecute New Black Panther Party members who intimidated voters at a Philadelphia polling place in November 2008, called the Maryland decision "enormously important."

"One thing it means is that military members need not wait on the bureaucrats in Washington D.C. at the Justice Department to sue," Adams wrote on his Election Law Center blog.

"This also shows that people are more effective than their government. DOJ filed no lawsuit in Maryland. MVP did. MVP won a victory for military voters from every state," he wrote.

Lamone said that despite the ruling, the state is not to blame for the delay in military voters getting their ballots.

"This is a failure of military mail system to get ballots to and from military in timely basis," she said.