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Removing former Sen. Oaks' name from ballot could disrupt primary preparations across Maryland, elections board says

After a judge ordered state elections officials Thursday to remove the name of former state Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks from the Democratic primary ballot, the State Board of Elections filed an appeal, saying the move threatens to disrupt preparations for the primaries across Maryland.

In his order, Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Glenn L. Klavans ruled that Oaks, a longtime politician who has pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges, was no longer eligible to run after giving up his right to vote.

Klavans said the state Board of Elections still had time to change the ballots before the June 26 primary and that keeping Oaks’ name on them would be confusing to voters.

“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.

Within hours of his ruling, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, representing state elections officials, filed an appeal to the state’s top court, arguing that changing the ballot in a single Baltimore district could be too disruptive this close to the primary.

The elections board asked the Maryland Court of Appeals to put Klavans’ ruling on hold while the case is under review, saying that if the appeals court doesn’t issue a stay, officials will have to stop printing ballots entirely.

It’s not clear when the Court of Appeals would hear the case or issue a ruling.

Oaks was charged in a federal corruption case last year, but continued to raise campaign money and filed for reelection as he fought the charges. When Oaks pleaded guilty in March and resigned his Senate seat, the deadline for him to withdraw from the race had passed. Oaks will be sentenced in July and could face a long prison sentence, which would make him ineligible to vote and hold office.

Oaks could not be reached for comment Thursday. He has said he supported the move to get his name removed from the ballot and went along this week with a plan formed by lawyers for three voters in his district to give up his voter registration, making him ineligible to run.

Last week the Anne Arundel court declined to strike Oaks’ name, but Klavans said Oaks’ removal of his name from the voter rolls changed the equation.

“The Court has determined that grounds exist for such reconsideration due to the fact that Nathaniel T. Oaks is now disqualified for election to the offices for which he filed certificates of candidacy, by virtue of his voluntary removal from the voter registration rolls,” the judge wrote.

The elections board has argued that its preparation for the election would be disrupted by having to remove Oaks’ name. On Monday, the board began the process of printing the 747 ballots that will be used in the primaries.

Klavans wrote that he did not consider any steps the board had taken since the last hearing in making his decision because officials knew the litigation was continuing.

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.

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