Activists Seek to Remove Oaks’ Name From Democratic Primary Ballot
By William F. Zorzi
Three registered voters from West Baltimore’s 41st District have filed a lawsuit in Anne Arundel Circuit Court to require the state elections administrator to strike the name of former legislator Nathaniel T. Oaks from the June 26 Democratic primary ballot.
As it stands now, Oaks’ name will appear twice on the 41st District ballot – as a candidate for both the Maryland Senate and Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee – because he was a qualified at the time of the state’s Feb. 27 primary election filing deadline.
Although under indictment at the time of that deadline, Oaks, 71, did not plead guilty until March 29 – more than two months later — to two felony charges of wire fraud and honest services wire fraud stemming from a federal political corruption investigation in which he took $15,300 in bribes from an FBI undercover source.
Two hours before the plea, in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Oaks resigned his Maryland Senate seat. The West Baltimore Democrat is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett on July 17, three weeks after the primary.
Under Maryland law, he would not lose his right to vote until actually entering prison, and thus would still be eligible to be on a ballot until such time.
The lawsuit asks a Circuit Court judge to order Linda H. Lamone, administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections, headquartered in Annapolis, to remove Oaks’ name from the ballot.
The three plaintiffs claim that as a result of his name remaining on the ballot, they – along with all the other voters in the 41st District — are being denied of their rights provided under the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Articles 7 and 24) of the Maryland Constitution and the First and Fourteenth Amendments U.S. Constitution.
They claim in the filing that the state election board set an “artificially early deadline” for removal of a disqualified candidate’s name from the ballot – four months before the election. The plaintiffs also claim they would “suffer immediate, substantial and irreparable harm” should Oaks’ name be allowed on the ballot, because it would affect the election.
No motion for a temporary restraining order was included with the lawsuit, although that could be filed in court as early as Wednesday.
The voters, three political activists from North and Northwest Baltimore, filed suit electronically at 11:28 p.m. Monday, though the document was unavailable at the Annapolis courthouse Tuesday. The lawyer representing the three, H. Mark Stichel, made a copy of the complaint available Tuesday.
The plaintiffs are Nancy Lord Lewin, Elinor G. “Ellie” Mitchell and Christopher R. Ervin. Mitchell and Ervin are two of the 24 candidates – including Oaks — running in the June 26 election for seats on the seven-member 41st District Democratic State Central Committee.
“If Oaks’s name remains on the ballot, even though he will be ineligible to serve, it will cause confusion among voters,” Stichel said in a statement. “Should voters cast a vote for Oaks, their votes will be disregarded. Such confusion will adversely impact voters’ constitutional right to cast their ballot effectively.”
Oaks’ name also appears on the 41st District ballot with two other Democrats vying for the Senate seat, Jill P. Carter and J.D. Merrill.
Carter’s supporters would also like to see Oaks’ name removed from the ballot. They fear that inclusion of his name on the ballot will draw votes away from Carter and give Merrill an advantage in the primary.
Oaks could easily remedy the problem by withdrawing his voter registration, thus rendering himself unqualified to both appear on the ballot and continue to hold a seat on the Democratic State Central Committee.
But that also would mean he would lose his role on the central committee in voting at a meeting next Tuesday, April 17, for his temporary Senate replacement from the 41st District.
The Maryland Democratic Party’s bylaws, and not Maryland election law, govern whether Oaks can continue on the State Central Committee.
The problem of his remaining on the Democratic State Central Committee is being reviewed by party officials, though it is unclear whether they will act one way or another before next Tuesday’s meeting of the 41st District Democrats.
Democratic activists in the 41st District have circulated petitions seeking to oust Oaks from the central committee – including at a Senate candidate forum Sunday — but whether they will resolve the matter before Tuesday remains to be seen.