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Because of pandemic, ballot signature requirements cut in half for independent candidates in Maryland

A court agreement has made it significantly easier for independent candidates in Maryland — including Baltimore contenders for mayor and Congress — to qualify for the November general election ballot. In this July 12, 2020, photo, plaintiff Amber Ivey, 36, left, an Independent candidate for the 7th Congressional District from Baltimore, speaks with Amy Davidoff of Mount Vernon as she seeks petition signatures to get on the ballot.
A court agreement has made it significantly easier for independent candidates in Maryland — including Baltimore contenders for mayor and Congress — to qualify for the November general election ballot. In this July 12, 2020, photo, plaintiff Amber Ivey, 36, left, an Independent candidate for the 7th Congressional District from Baltimore, speaks with Amy Davidoff of Mount Vernon as she seeks petition signatures to get on the ballot. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

A court agreement has made it significantly easier for independent candidates in Maryland — including Baltimore contenders for mayor and Congress — to qualify for the November general election ballot.

The agreement, approved Monday by U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett, says unaffiliated candidates can get on ballots with half the number of registered voter signatures that would normally be required. The rationale is that candidates’ ability to gather signatures has been hampered by stay-at-home orders and other governmental restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

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The agreement is a victory for Amber Ivey, a government performance management specialist hoping to be on the ballot as an independent for the 7th Congressional District seat long held by the late Elijah Cummings. Democrat Kweisi Mfume won a special election in April to finish Cummings’ term, and is seeking a new term in the Nov. 3 election. Kimberly Klacik won the Republican nomination to challenge him.

The eased signature requirement also affects other independent candidates, including entrepreneur Bob Wallace, who is running for Baltimore mayor.

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Previously, Wallace would have needed about 4,000 signatures — 1% of the city’s eligible voters. He now only needs 2,000, but his campaign says it’s largely a moot point because he has already easily collected enough names to qualify.

“We’ve been at this for a couple of months, in spite of the pandemic, and are just about to turn in well in excess of the previous number of signatures required,” said David Nevins, head of Nevins & Associates, which is handling the campaign’s marketing and communications. “We have gathered 8,000 signatures.”

Wallace is running on a jobs creation platform. Ivey’s priorities include ensuring that Americans have adequate technological knowledge and resources to help a healthy economy grow.

Ivey filed suit July 7 in federal court in Baltimore. She named state elections administrator Linda Lamone as defendant and argued the coronavirus restrictions made it much more difficult for her to gather the necessary 5,067 signatures.

“The argument was the state had put in a stay-at-home order which didn’t allow people to get out and about like normal,” Ivey said Monday. “I believe every person has the right to ballot access. We made sure it [the agreement] was about everyone and not just me.”

The agreement lowers the number of signatures to the lesser of 5,000 registered voters, or 0.5% of those eligible to vote for the office being sought.

State Board of Elections officials did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

In a similar settlement last month, the state’s Green and Libertarian parties also had their signature requirements cut in half for the same reasons. However, that agreement applied only to the plaintiffs in that case.

Ivey said she had 200 signatures when she filed suit, but has collected more than 1,000 now and believes she will collect enough to reach her new target of 2,534. Candidates typically amass extra signatures in case some are declared invalid.

In April, the state elections board said it would permit the use of electronic signatures for the petitions to help preserve the rights of Marylanders seeking ballot access during the virus. The state has reported 78,685 coronavirus cases and 3,252 deaths since officials began tracking the pandemic in March.

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