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State appeals ruling to remove Oaks’ name from ballot

The Maryland State Board of Elections must remove former state senator Nathaniel Oaks’ name from primary election ballots, a judge ruled Thursday after previously denying the relief last week.

The board noted an appeal Thursday afternoon to both the Court of Special Appeals and Court of Appeals, which is authorized to hear the case under election law. The state is also seeking a stay pending appeal, which the plaintiffs oppose, according to attorney H. Mark Stichel, who represents voters seeking to remove Oaks from the ballot.

Stichel, a partner at Astrachan Gunst Thomas PC in Baltimore, said the Court of Appeals had not ruled on the stay petition as of 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Glenn L. Klavans ordered Oaks’ name removed in a written order Thursday after the plaintiffs asked him to reconsider his earlier decision in light of Oaks’ steps to make himself an ineligible voter since the hearing last week.

“The harm to the voters by way of potential confusion, inadvertence, and/or mischief by the appearance of a disqualified name on the ballot far outweighs any inconvenience to the Board of Elections,” Klavans wrote.

Oaks, a Baltimore Democrat, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and honest services wire fraud in March but will not be sentenced until after the June 26 primary election. Oaks’ plea came after the deadline to withdraw his candidacy but did not disqualify him from office because he is still a registered voter. He would have an remained eligible candidate until he began his prison sentence if not for withdrawing his voter registration Monday afternoon.

The Board of Elections has maintained state law does not permit the removal of a candidate’s name from ballots after a statutory deadline passes. The board also argued at the hearing April 20 it was too late to remove Oaks’ name from the ballot for practical reasons, as test ballots for precincts were scheduled to begin printing April 23.

But Klavans, in his ruling Thursday, said the board has adequate time to change the ballots.

“Any actions taken by the Board of Elections since the adversary hearing to further their printing and testing process was done after notice that the instant matter remained in active litigation and thus cannot be deemed to have further prejudiced the Board of Elections’ position in this matter,” he wrote.

Test ballots, which are prepared for all precincts and used to test their voting equipment, were at the printer Monday, and a Board of Elections employee testified at last week’s hearing that removing Oaks’ name now would be a challenge and compress an already tight timeline.

Klavans’ order is in line with his statements last week when he denied injunctive relief from the bench. He suggested the harm to voters by having a soon-to-be ineligible candidate on the ballot outweighed the “uncomfortable but adequate timing” for the board to change the ballots. But Klavans concluded he ultimately was constrained by the fact that Oaks was not actually ineligible yet.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs chose not to appeal Klavans’ initial ruling and instead contacted Oaks’ criminal defense attorneys to request Oaks’ cooperation in making himself ineligible so they could take the new facts back to Klavans and ask him to reconsider.

The case is Nancy Lewin et al. v. Linda H. Lamone, 02C18001013.

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