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Republican candidates file for appeal in Annapolis vote-by-mail lawsuit dismissal

Two Republican political candidates are asking Maryland’s highest court to reverse the decision by a Circuit Court judge to throw out their lawsuit intended to block Annapolis from mailing ballots to registered voters in its upcoming elections.

The appeal filed Thursday to the Maryland Court of Appeals repeats the arguments made in an initial filing to the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in late July that the Annapolis Board of Supervisors of Elections — along with the county elections board, which helps administer the city’s elections — violated City Code by offering a vote-by-mail option to all registered voters and paying for the return postage.

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County executive candidate Herb McMillan and George Gallagher, a Ward 6 City Council candidate, are now asking an appellate judge to consider a series of questions that Circuit Judge Glenn Klavans may have erred in dismissing the case with prejudice on Monday. In their filing, Gallagher and McMillan have requested an expedited schedule so a decision can be rendered before the issues become moot.

On Friday, the high court granted that request for an expedited response on whether the court will consider hearing the appeal. City attorneys now have until Tuesday to file a response.

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Despite the ongoing legal battle, Annapolis is set to begin mailing ballots for the Sept. 21 primary elections on or about Aug. 30. Ballot drop boxes are set to be installed next week.

“Our job is to make sure we have a fair, secure and accessible election and that is what we’re doing,” said Eileen Leahy, chair of the Board of Supervisors of Elections, in a statement. Leahy is named as a defendant in the case.

Klavans wrote in his opinion that the candidates filed their complaint outside of a 10-day statute of limitations for filing election challenges in Maryland and “offered no valid explanation” as to why they waited nearly a month to file a lawsuit, which constituted “an unreasonable delay.”

The opinion did not address whether the city elections board was legally allowed to mail ballots or pay for postage.

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McMillan and Gallagher’s appeal alleges Klavans erred in applying the 10-day rule because they were researching the issue, searching for counsel and imploring a city alderman to take action before they eventually filed their complaint within a week of exhausted those efforts.

“The right of the citizens to an election which is conducted in accordance with all applicable statutes and laws is paramount to a democracy and to the citizens believing that the election was conducted in a fair and just manner,” the appellants wrote. “In this case, the City’s Board of Elections has decided to ignore specific and unambiguous provisions of the City’s Code which require certain procedures in conducting the upcoming municipal elections.”

Annapolis attorneys have said a resolution passed by the City Council last July, R-35-20, authorizes the city and county boards of election to enter into a contract to administer the 2021 election and “to provide for the option of voting by mail.”

The appellants have countered that City Code requires an ordinance, not a resolution, to change Annapolis election procedures.

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