About 1,500 people with misdemeanor convictions were mistakenly dropped from Maryland's voter rolls over the past five years, state judiciary officials confirmed Friday.
A computer system incorrectly lumped those voters in with felons, who are stripped of their right to vote until their sentence is completed, said Terri Bolling, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Judiciary. People convicted of misdemeanors retain their right to vote in Maryland.
Officials said they are fixing the error, discovered in part by former Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold.
Leopold was convicted in January of two counts of misconduct in office — a common-law misdemeanor — for directing his staff and police officers to carry out personal and political tasks, including emptying his catheter bag. He resigned from office and has appealed the convictions.
In June, Leopold received a letter from Anne Arundel elections officials notifying him that his voter registration was going to be canceled.
As Leopold worked to have his voter registration reinstated, he learned that he may not be the only voter affected.
Every month, state judiciary officials send a list of new felons to elections officials, who remove the convicts from their rolls.
Bolling said officials are still working to determine how the error happened. "The judiciary and the Board of Elections are working together to fix the process," Bolling said.
In a letter to Leopold, Anne Arundel Clerk of the Circuit Court Robert Duckworth said the state judiciary's system was incorrectly including all convictions based on common law instead of just common law felonies.
"We're looking at it very, very closely now that it's been brought to our attention," said Douglas Arnold, chief deputy clerk of the Anne Arundel Circuit Court.
Common-law crimes are based on inherited English laws and decisions handed down by courts over time, while most crimes are based on statutes passed by lawmakers.
Examples of common-law crimes in Maryland include disturbing the peace, false imprisonment and misconduct in office.
Leopold praised Anne Arundel's Board of Elections and Circuit Court for acting quickly once he alerted them to the problem.
Leopold said he was concerned not just about his own right to vote, but for others who might not realize that they were wrongly dropped from the voter rolls.
"The right to vote is sacred," he said. "Of all our fundamental rights, this is the most important."
Those notified that they are being removed from voter rolls because of a criminal conviction have two weeks to appeal the decision. Leopold said county elections officials quickly acknowledged the error and sent him a letter saying his voter registration would not be canceled.
County and state elections officials could not be reached to comment.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun