Greens, Libertarians launch new drives after ruling keeps them off Md. ballot

The Green and Libertarian parties are launching new petition drives to get their candidates for president and other offices on Maryland's November ballot after losing a battle before the state's highest court.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled Monday that state elections officials were correct to disqualify thousands of signatures on petitions previously circulated by the two parties. Many signatures were thrown out as illegible or not consistent with the voter's official registration card.

Brian Bittner, the Green Party's state treasurer, said Tuesday that the ruling "makes it harder for democracy in Maryland."

"We've got an important election coming up," he said. "If nothing changes, we'll have two candidates [President Barack Obama and likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney] on the ballot. Many Marylanders want more than that."

Bittner said his party now needs to collect about 5,000 more signatures by August to get its candidates on the ballot. A Libertarian Party spokesman wasn't sure how many signatures his group needs to obtain.

The two parties had sued the State Board of Elections, which in 2011 ruled they no longer met state standards to be on the ballot. The board said the parties failed to win 1 percent of the vote in the most recent election and didn't have the 10,000 petition signatures needed to remain on the ballot.

In the suit filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, the parties claimed they did submit enough signatures — and the court agreed. But elections officials appealed, and the state's high court overturned the ruling.

"It's unfortunate that the political powers-that-be want to use taxpayers' money to shut down the Libertarians, Greens and other parties," said Maryland Libertarian Party spokesman Lorenzo Gaztanaga. "For years, our signatures have always been accepted. … We have been getting signatures correct. We haven't been doing anything wrong. There was a procedural change to make it harder."

The groups say Maryland's rule that the signer's name must match his or her voter registration record — including middle initial and full first name — is "excessively strict."

"William Jefferson Clinton signed official documents as 'Bill Clinton,'" Bittner said. "Under Maryland's rule, his signature wouldn't count."

Maryland elections officials hailed the ruling, which they said gives them guidance in evaluating a flurry of signature drives. But they expressed concern that all the drives could overwhelm staff as they attempt to validate the signatures.

State elections administrator Linda Lamone said she was "really pleased the court acted so quickly."

"The opinion confirms the practice we've had in place for a year," she said.

Lamone and Donna J. Duncan, the state's director of election management, said they've already certified two signature drives. One placed the Dream Act — legislation to allow some illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at Maryland colleges and universities — on the November ballot. Another would allow the Americans Elect political party to place its candidates' names on the ballot.

Petition drives are under way to overturn the state's congressional redistricting plan and same-sex marriage law.

Last year, Del. Neil C. Parrott, a Frederick County Republican whose group successfully petitioned Maryland's "Dream Act" to referendum, created a website that makes it easier to collect valid signatures. His tool enables petition signers to check their names against the state's list of registered voters. Parrott's group is involved in the attempt to get the new map of congressional districts voted down at referendum.

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