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Valerie Ervin files lawsuit to force reprinting of ballots in Democratic primary for Maryland governor

Valerie Ervin files lawsuit to force reprinting of ballots in Democratic primary for Maryland governor
Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Valerie Ervin has filed a lawsuit seeking to force state officials to reprint primary elections ballots with her name on them. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Valerie Ervin has filed a lawsuit seeking to force state officials to reprint primary elections ballots with her name on them.

In a filing in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, Ervin and her running mate, Marisol Johnson, argue that not printing new ballots “will cause confusion and cause voters to reassess who to vote for since their candidate does not appear properly on the ballot.”

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Ervin had been the lieutenant governor running mate for Kevin Kamenetz, who was a leading Democratic contender for governor. After Kamenetz died of a sudden cardiac arrest on May 10, Ervin decided to take his place at the top of the ticket, as state law allows. She picked Johnson, a former Baltimore County school board member, to be her running mate.

State elections officials have said that Ervin’s entry into the race on May 17 was too late to have millions of ballots reprinted with Ervin’s name in place of Kamenetz’s. They’ve said that only one paper mill makes the paper that Maryland’s voting machines can read, and they can’t obtain that paper until late June.

The primary election is scheduled for June 26, with early voting beginning on June 14.

The Ervin campaign has suggested using stickers to cover Kamenetz’s name so ballots show Ervin as the candidate, but state elections officials shot down that idea.

Instead, elections officials decided to post signs in polling locations listing all of the gubernatorial candidates, and instructing voters that ballots cast for Kamenetz would count for Ervin.

Ervin has said that will confuse voters and that she has a right to be on the ballot in her own name.

Nikki Charlson, Maryland’s deputy elections administrator, said Wednesday that she could not comment on pending litigation.

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office would represent the State Board of Elections in the case. Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said state officials had not yet been served with the lawsuit on Wednesday afternoon and could not comment.

Earlier in the week, Andrea W. Trento, an assistant attorney general, wrote to Ervin’s team defending the election board’s decision.

Trento wrote that it would be impossible to reprint the ballots because of the paper supply issue, and that the sticker idea wouldn’t work, either, because the voting machines can’t accommodate them.

“Litigation will not change either of these facts,” she wrote.

Mariana C. Cordier, who represents Ervin, said all valid candidates need to be on the ballot.

“The problem is that the ability to have a population be fully advised, informed and aware can only be satisfied by placing a sticker on the ballot or reprinting it,” Cordier said.

Ervin is seeking an injunction that would force the state elections board to modify the ballots to include Ervin’s name. A hearing on the injunction request has not yet been scheduled, Cordier said.

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She said she doesn’t buy elections officials’ explanations about the logistical problems with obtaining paper or printing stickers.

“They’ve been dragging their feet and running the clock,” Cordier said.

Cordier said New York has similar voting machines and a vendor that can provide multiple sources of paper. “I’m not sure if the paper is all that special,” she said.

Douglas A. Kellner, co-chairman of the New York state elections board, said New York’s law requires that ballots be reprinted if a candidate dies four or more days before an election. Even if a candidate died the week of the election, Kellner said, the ballots could be reprinted without interfering with the vote.

“It could be done,” he said.

New York uses the same supplier of election machines as Maryland. Kellner said New York officials refused to allow the company, Election Systems and Software, to require that the state use only special paper the company developed. Instead, Kellner said, local elections boards can use any paper that meets specifications that the company sets out.

“In New York several counties print their ballots in-house and they buy the paper in public bidding,” Kellner said. “It is my understanding that there are many manufacturers of paper that can meet these specifications.”

But Sal DeBiase, president of Phoenix Graphics, which prints up to 12 million ballot papers in election years for New York counties, said securing paper could be a real obstacle to Maryland officials if they had to reprint ballots.

“Paper is in shortage nationally,” DeBiase said. “Everything we used to be able to get within a week is now two to four to six weeks.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.

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