- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — A group that is circulating a petition for a referendum that would bar early voting this fall filed a lawsuit yesterday challenging the State Board of Elections’ assertion that the group has not filed enough valid signatures.

Marylanders for Fair Elections (MFFE), an ad hoc group based in Annapolis and backed by Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s re-election campaign, filed the lawsuit in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

“We think [State Board of Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone] jumped the gun on this, and, quite frankly, we think she did it on purpose,” MFFE Chairman Tom Roskelly said.

In a written statement, Mr. Roskelly accused Mrs. Lamone of “a deliberate effort to get the ‘petition failed’ headlines in statewide newspapers … as a means of stifling the work of our volunteers.”

“We’ve had a number of volunteers call and say it’s a lost cause, and we’re saying it’s not a lost cause,” Mr. Roskelly told The Washington Times yesterday.

Mrs. Lamone could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Early last week, the State Board of Elections said the group had filed more than 40,000 valid signatures for the petition.

But late last week, Mrs. Lamone announced that the petition drive had fallen 138 signatures short of the 17,062 needed to put the referendum on November’s ballot.

MFFE actually is circulating petitions for two separate early-voting bills and is required to collect 51,185 valid signatures for both. The 40,000 signatures it had collected were for both petitions.

The group was to submit the first third of the signatures for the first bill by May 31, and the elections board ruled that that petition effort had failed, thereby ending the drive.

Mr. Roskelly said his group submitted 20,211 signatures, and he does not think the elections board’s count was honest.

In his written statement, he said, “We see a consistent pattern of behavior by Ms. Lamone in an attempt to deny the citizens of Maryland their legal right under the Constitution.”

Mrs. Lamone’s deputy, Ross Goldstein, sent out a briefing memo Friday saying, “Allegations of fraud by Linda Lamone in this process are completely unfounded and false.”

“Those making the allegations of fraud do not provide an explanation or theory for how this fraud could have been committed,” according to the memo.

Mr. Roskelly said Mrs. Lamone denied MFFE’s request to observe verification of the signatures, which his lawsuit asks the court to recount.

The petition drive against the second bill is moving forward, and Mr. Roskelly said he fully expects to meet the 51,185 requirement by Friday’s deadline.

MFFE says the early voting law enacted by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly this year invites voter fraud. The law allows voting in certain precincts as many as five days before Election Day.

Democratic lawmakers say the law will allow more voter participation. Some form of early voting is done in more than 20 states.

The legislature passed the early-voting bill last year, but Mr. Ehrlich vetoed it. This year, the General Assembly overrode the veto, and the bill became law.

Mrs. Lamone, citing an opinion by state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. has argued that the petition drive is invalid because it did not begin when the legislature first approved the bill.

State law requires that referendums to block new laws be initiated in the same year as the laws are enacted.

Mr. Roskelly said that since Mr. Ehrlich vetoed the bill and that veto was overturned this year, the bill did not become law until this year and can be petitioned.

“We believe [Mr. Curran’s] interpretation on this is totally wrong … and ignores the Maryland Constitution,” Mr. Roskelly said. “It just defies common sense.”

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