Russell A. Neverdon Sr.’s quest to be placed on the November general election ballot as an independent candidate for Baltimore city state’s attorney comes down to one number: 1,051. That’s how many signatures he will need to show that the city Board of Elections incorrectly invalidated from his petition, which would give him the 4,160 signatures he needs to avoid having to run as a write-in candidate.
Neverdon will have a chance to challenge the disqualified signatures Friday during an evidentiary hearing in Baltimore City Circuit Court on his appeal of the Board of Elections’ decision. Retired Judge Martin P. Welch last week took under advisement the Board of Elections’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
Neverdon delivered to the board last month a petition containing nearly 5,700 signatures, of which only 3,099 were deemed valid signatures of Baltimore residents. That means approximately 2,600 signatures would be up for review at the hearing.
“Practically, how do you plan on presenting the information in court?” retired Judge Martin P. Welch asked Neverdon’s attorney, Edward Smith Jr., last week.
Smith said he would use spreadsheets and produce a “voluminous record.”
“We intend to introduce evidence that all of the signatures should be accepted,” Smith later told reporters outside of the courthouse. “We will show each of the signatures is valid.”
Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey L. Darsie, representing the city and state elections boards, argued officials followed “detailed and mandatory standards” for verifying petition signatures, standards that have been upheld by the Court of Appeals.
“If the board applied the proper legal rules, I just don’t think they’ll be able to come forward with anywhere near” the signatures Neverdon needs, Darsie said. “Although they could prove me wrong.”
Almost half of the invalid signatures were thrown out because the individual’s signature did not match the name that appears on the statewide voter registration list or because the signer did not include the date of signing, both of which are required under state law governing petitions.
Derek McCoy said he was not surprised when told the name and date requirements were the major sources of invalid signatures.
“It’ll make you pull your hair out,” said McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Family Alliance, which gathered about 130,000 signatures of Maryland residents to place the same-sex marriage referendum on the 2012 general election ballot.
The state Board of Elections threw out only 4,000 signatures, one of the lowest error rates for a petition, McCoy said. He attributed the high success rate to well-trained signature gatherers and because his group itself threw out about 5,000 signatures while doing its own review of names. The Maryland Family Alliance also asked elections officials for their opinion on a signature if there was a question or concern.
“They can be very meticulous in how they expect you to do it,” McCoy said of election officials. Signatures “will be invalidated on things that we think are very minute.”
McCoy called the rules strict but said the elections board “owes it to the people to make sure they are accurate and flexible.”
“If you see consistent errors, there should be the ability to adjust,” he said. “At the end of the day, we want to know: Is the signature valid? And is this a real person in the state?”
Neverdon’s campaign has said it created its own verification system based on voter data provided by the city’s Board of Elections to ensure “the legitimacy of the signatures.”
Smith told Welch last week the signatures were invalidated only because of human error at the Board of Elections.
“No matter how many rules you have, people might still let you down,” said Smith, a Baltimore solo practitioner. “Just because they say it’s so don’t make it so.”
Neverdon, a veteran criminal defense lawyer, is hoping to face Democratic nominee Marilyn J. Mosby in November. There is no Republican candidate.
The case is Russell A. Neverdon Sr., et al. v. State Board of Elections, et al., 24C14004915.