Judge dismisses lawsuit that asked for do-over of Baltimore primary election

A judge dismissed a lawsuit that sought to redo the city's primary election.

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit that sought a redo of Baltimore's primary election, concluding in part that the plaintiffs waited too long to file the complaint.

The plaintiffs, led by members of Voters Organized for the Integrity of City Elections — or VOICE — argued that a new primary election should be held because of alleged irregularities and a "vote-buying scheme."

But U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar said the plaintiffs had unreasonably delayed both filing and then serving the lawsuit to the defendants, the city and state elections boards.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court on June 1, weeks after the April primary election and after a deadline to file such a complaint in state court. The plaintiffs also did not serve the defendants until six weeks after the lawsuit was filed, the judge said.

"Plaintiffs displayed no urgency at all in their prosecution of this suit," Bredar wrote in his dismissal last week. Therefore, he wrote, the primary's results "will not be disturbed."

Armstead B.C. Jones Sr., director of the Baltimore City Board of Elections, said he was gratified by the decision.

"I had no doubt from the beginning that it was going to be dismissed," Jones said. "From what I read, it had no merit."

The lawsuit said voting was suppressed at polling places that opened late. It also alleged that state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, winner of the Democratic primary for mayor, ran a "vote-buying scheme" targeting minority voters, who were bused to early-voting centers and offered food after applying for jobs with Pugh's campaign.

Pugh did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit alleged that those problems disproportionately affected black people, because they make up a majority of city voters. Bredar concluded that the plaintiffs didn't demonstrate that nonblack voters weren't also affected by the irregularities.

Hassan Giordano, an organizer for VOICE and a plaintiff, said he was disappointed with the judge's decision. He said it was unfair that the judge took months to dismiss the lawsuit when the plaintiffs had been cited for their lack of timeliness.

"Judge Bredar's decision to dismiss our lawsuit based on a technicality instead of bringing it to court for everyone to see is troubling," Giordano said. "Elections are the bedrock and cornerstone of our democracy, and for something that's clearly wrong ... you would think they would want to expedite the process to not get it wrong again."

VOICE plans to station monitors at the polls on Election Day.

Giordano said the plaintiffs had not determined whether they could or would file an appeal.

Two candidates who lost in the primary also signed on to the lawsuit: Charlie Metz, a Democrat who ran for City Council, and William T. Newton, a Republican running in the 7th Congressional District. Metz lost the party's nomination for the South Baltimore District 10 council seat by 130 votes. Newton lost the Republican nomination for the House seat by 45 votes.

A released felon, Dwayne Benbow, also was a plaintiff. He said election judges questioned his right to vote for 40 minutes, despite a new state law allowing felons to cast a ballot. He ultimately cast a provisional ballot

Former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, who came in second place in the Democratic primary, was not a plaintiff in the lawsuit. But she said in a statement that she was disappointed by the judge's decision.

"The right to vote is the most fundamental right a citizen has in this country, and is a sacred right that should be protected at all levels," said Dixon, who announced last week she would run a write-in campaign for mayor. "Without any judicial relief, I would pray that the state and city board of elections has a better plan of action in place during the upcoming general election, to ensure that the level of incompetency we experienced during the primary elections doesn't happen again this November."

Jones said he has recruited more election judges to work on Election Day, which is Nov. 8. During the primary, many election judges did not show up for their shifts.

"Those things that I can control, we're working on to make sure things are better," Jones said. "I look forward to a great election."

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