- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — A group opposing early voting in this fall’s election will now take its lawsuit to Maryland’s Court of Appeals, after a county judge yesterday denied its request to keep alive a petition drive that would stop early voting and let voters decide whether they want it in the future.

“I’m disappointed that they ruled so narrowly, but we expected that this would go to the Court of Appeals,” said Tom Roskelly, chairman of Marylanders for Fair Elections, a group backed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s re-election campaign.

“It’s one more bump in this legal road we have to navigate,” Mr. Roskelly said.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, officially registered yesterday as a candidate, along with running mate Kristen Cox. He called the two bills that established early voting “power grabs by the leadership of the Maryland General Assembly.”

Mr. Ehrlich has also said that early voting will make voter-fraud easier to commit.

Mr. Roskelly’s group is pressing forward with the petition drive and yesterday submitted to Secretary of State Mary D. Kane about 200,000 signatures, roughly twice the number needed.

The two petitions against the bills require about 51,000 signatures each to halt early voting this fall and place it on the ballot for voters to decide whether it is implemented in the future.

The group had already submitted 40,000 signatures May 31, but State Board of Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone said the signatures were insufficient.

Miss Lamone said the group had fallen 138 signatures short on May 31 on its petition against the initial early-voting bill, which was passed in 2005, vetoed by Mr. Ehrlich, then passed by a veto override in the Democrat-controlled legislature this year.

Mr. Roskelly accused Miss Lamone of trying to stifle the petition drive by declaring the signatures insufficient, and he has cast doubt on the honesty of her count.

“They can make all the baseless, groundless charges they want,” said David Paulson of the Maryland Democratic Party. “It doesn’t hide the fact that they failed.”

The group also said it was denied a request to observe the signature verification and requested a recount.

In the group’s lawsuit, members argued that the validity of the signatures should not have been determined until yesterday’s deadline had passed and all signatures had been submitted.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Paul Hackner yesterday dismissed the suit.

Judge Hackner said he thought the group’s argument was “nonsensical,” according to the Associated Press.

The petition drive against the second bill, which passed this year and set up early voting locations in what Republicans said were overwhelmingly Democratic precincts, is going forward.

The State Board of Elections will now verify those signatures and hold on to the signatures on the petition against the first bill until the Court of Appeals rules on the lawsuit.

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