Three voters registered in former state senator Nathaniel Oaks’ Baltimore district are suing the Maryland State Board of Elections over its alleged refusal to remove his name from the primary ballot.
Oaks pleaded guilty to wire fraud and honest services wire fraud last month, the same day he formalized his resignation from the Senate. He will be sentenced in July.
The lawsuit, filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court on Tuesday, asks the court to order the board to remove Oaks’ name from the ballot and declare unconstitutional the law that “freezes” the primary-election-day ballot almost four months before an election.
The primary is scheduled for June 26. Oaks met the qualifications for office as of the filing deadline, Feb. 27, and would remain on the ballot as a result, according to the complaint.
H. Mark Stichel, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said it’s dangerous to leave an incumbent with name recognition on the ballot and his clients, a registered voter and two candidates for the Democratic State Central Committee, are concerned about the impact.
“It’s a confusing situation when the governing authority puts someone out on a ballot and they’re ineligible,” said Stichel, a principal at Astrachan Gunst Thomas PC in Baltimore. “You’re effectively luring people in to waste their vote.”
Nancy Lewin, one of the plaintiffs, in a prepared statement called Oaks’ plea and the knowledge that he would remain on the ballot a “one-two political punch.”
“This case is about power and the integrity of democracy,” she said. “I joined this case because voters’ rights matter in Maryland’s 41st District.”
A spokeswoman for the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, which represents state elections administrator Linda H. Lamone, said the office has received the complaint and is reviewing it.
The Maryland Constitution prohibits a person from holding an office created by the Constitution if they are not a registered voter in the state on the date of their election or appointment. Election law prohibits individuals convicted of a felony and serving a sentence of imprisonment from voting, and the bylaws of the state Democratic Party provides that a member of the Democratic State Central Committee is disqualified for office and removed as a member upon a felony conviction.
“Oaks’ guilty plea is the equivalent of a conviction of a felony and he will be serving a court-ordered sentence of imprisonment on the date of the General Election (for the office),” the complaint states.
U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett did not commit to a sentence at the time of the plea and noted that although federal guidelines recommended an eight- to 10-year sentence, he is not allowed to presume those guidelines are reasonable. Oaks faces up to 20 years in prison for each count but Bennett said the sentences would run concurrently.
Oaks pleaded guilty to taking $15,300 in bribes from an informant posing as a Texas investor in exchange for using his the senator’s position in the General Assembly to obtain financing for a phony development project.
The case is Nancy Lewin et al. v. Linda H. Lamone.