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Russell A. Neverdon Sr. (File photo)

Judge hears Neverdon’s bid to get on ballot

A Baltimore judge said Friday he would decide as soon as possible whether Russell A. Neverdon Sr. can appear on the November ballot as an independent candidate for city state’s attorney.

Retired Judge Martin P. Welch, during an evidentiary hearing, listened to many of the same arguments made last week when the city and state Boards of Elections sought to dismiss Neverdon’s appeal.

The city Board of Elections last month reported that Neverdon fell short of the 4,150 valid signatures he needed to be eligible to appear on the ballot. 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.”

The campaign collected approximately 5,700 signatures, of which 3,099 were deemed valid. Almost half of the disqualified 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.

But Neverdon, in court Friday, said the statute “can’t override the most fundamental right – the right to vote.” Neverdon said there was never any intent by his campaign to “trick, fool or mislead voters” who signed his petition.

The candidate also said his campaign sought to turn in petitions to the board during the collection process to check on signatures’ validity but that the board said all of the signatures had to be turned in at once.

Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey L. Darsie, representing the city and state boards of election, said the board by law cannot accept a petition piecemeal. Darsie, who offered two large accordion folders with the petitions as evidence, reiterated the boards’ position that the case is not about the right to vote but rather access to the ballot.

“The burden is slight,” Darsie said. Neverdon’s argument, he added, is “all the rules make it difficult to get on the ballot. I don’t think they have made that case.”

Neverdon, in his closing argument, choked up as he spoke about continuing his campaign as a write-in candidate should his appeal fail.

“This is about the people having a choice as guaranteed by the Constitution,” he said. “This is about looking at my children each morning and saying, ‘Don’t give up.’”

Neverdon, a veteran criminal defense lawyer, is hoping to appear on the ballot alongside Democratic nominee Marilyn J. Mosby in November. There is no Republican candidate.

Neverdon represented himself at Friday’s hearing being represented at the previous hearing by Baltimore solo practitioner Edward Smith Jr. Neverdon said following Friday’s hearing Smith withdrew his appearance after the two had different views on how to proceed in the case.

The case is Russell A. Neverdon Sr., et al. v. State Board of Elections, et al., 24C14004915, Baltimore City Circuit Court.