Before he pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges last month, Nathaniel Oaks gave up his seat in the Maryland Senate. Now the veteran Baltimore Democrat has given up his right to vote as part of a whirlwind effort to make sure his name does not appear on the June 26 Democratic primary ballot.
The Baltimore Board of Elections late Monday afternoon accepted Oaks’ request to surrender his voter registration — a move Oaks hopes will convince a judge to formally remove the 71-year-old Democrat’s name from the ballot.
Just last week an Anne Arundel County judge refused to remove Oaks’ name because he is still an eligible candidate for the Democratic primary until after he is sentenced for the federal bribery charges he pleaded guilty to in March.
The problem is that Oaks’ sentencing isn’t scheduled until July -- nearly three weeks after the Democratic primary. Being on the primary ballot would lead to the chance that voters would pick Oaks, who won’t be eligible to run in November if he’s in prison.
It’s a scenario that not even Oaks wants to see.
“Please remove my name from the voter registration files of the state of Maryland,” Oaks wrote in a letter submitted to the city board on Monday. “Reason for removal: To facilitate removal of my name from election ballot.”
The letter was submitted by H. Mark Stichel, a lawyer representing three voters in Oaks’ former Baltimore district who filed the lawsuit in Anne Arundel to get him out of the Democratic primary race.
Stichel said the city board immediately canceled Oaks’ voter registration.
Stichel hurried to electronically file Oaks’ letter and a copy of his now-cancelled voter registration with the Anne Arundel judge, along with a request that the judge reconsider his Friday ruling. Stichel said he planned to go to the court Tuesday morning to urge quick action in the case.
Why the rush? State elections officials were scheduled to start printing ballot papers Monday. They have said that any changes after that point would be costly and disruptive.
“The right of the citizens of Legislative District 41 to cast a meaningfully vote for a qualified candidate outweighs any inconvenience imposed upon the State Election Board in their efforts to prepare the Primary Election ballots,” Stichel wrote in a memo to the judge.
Oaks, who had already agreed to suspend his campaign, confirmed that his lawyer was involved in the effort and that he remained committed to having his name stricken from the ballot so that voters wouldn’t waste their vote on him.
Two other candidates are on the Democratic primary ballot for the Senate seat: former Del. Jill P. Carter, who heads the mayor’s civil rights office, and J.D. Merrill, a former teacher who is the son-in-law of former Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Oaks said that for his name to remain on the ballot would be “unfair to the two candidates.”
The winner of June’s Democratic primary is likely to be the winner in November’s general election, as no Republican has filed to run. An independent candidate could still join the race by submitting petition signatures. Nearly 80 percent of the city’s voters are Democrats.
The deadline for candidates to remove their name from the ballot is March 1, almost three months before the primary. A state elections official said in an affidavit that the State Board of Elections needs the time to accurately prepare the 747 different ballots across the state and comply with federal rules guaranteeing military personnel and other people overseas the right to vote.
Lawyers for the state elections board have questioned in court filings whether any of the voters who brought the case could prove they would be hurt by Oaks’ name appearing on the ballot because they would still be free to vote for their preferred candidates.
In comparison, the state’s lawyers said the elections board would clearly be harmed by the disruption removing his name would cause to the process of preparing for the vote.
“The public interest here would be served by not allowing eleventh-hour challenges to the elections process,” the attorneys wrote.