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Politicsby Fern Shen7:21 pmApr 10, 20180

Suit filed to remove convicted ex-senator Oaks from June primary ballot

Complaint also challenges constitutionality of setting the primary ballot almost four months before the election

Above: Then-senator Nathaniel Oaks at a 2013 community meeting in Northwest Baltimore. (Fern Shen)

Three registered voters in Baltimore’s 41st District have filed a lawsuit against Maryland election officials, calling for them to remove Nathaniel Oaks’ name from the June 26 primary ballot.

Filed yesterday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court by lawyer H. Mark Stichel, the complaint argues that Oaks’ name “will cause confusion and cause voters to cast votes for an ineligible candidate.”

Charged by federal prosecutors with accepting $15,300 from an FBI informant posing as an out-of-town developer, Oaks last month resigned from the Senate and pleaded guilty to two counts of felony fraud.

But state election officials have said Oaks’ name must remain on the ballot, along with two other candidates vying for his Senate seat, former 41st District delegate Jill P. Carter and city school teacher J.D. Merrill.

Under Maryland law, a person who is in prison for a felony is not eligible to vote and is, therefore, not eligible to hold office.

But Oaks’ imprisonment would not take place until after the election – he is scheduled to be sentenced on July 17.

The Board of Elections’ failure to remove Oaks from the ballot, the suit argues, deprives voters of their rights under the Maryland Declaration of Rights (articles 7 and 24) and the U.S. Constitution (the First and Fourteenth Amendments).

Seeking a Temporary Restraining Order to stop Oaks’ name from going on the ballot, the suit notes that persons who vote for an ineligible candidate will have their votes “disregarded.”

“Given the strong public interest in protecting the votes of all voters, such a disqualification would violate public policy,” Stichel argues in the 10-page complaint.

The Maryland statutes that set the election ballot months before the election are, in themselves, he maintains, unconstitutional.

“Making a mockery of our district”

In a media announcement, Stichel released a statement from one of the plaintiffs, Nancy Lewin:

In the waning days of the 2018 legislative session, constituents in the 41st district got the one-two political punch: a guilty plea in federal court from former 41st district senator Nathaniel Oaks, and the added insult of finding out that his name would remain on the primary election ballot for both State Senate and state Democratic Central Committee unless voters took action.

Oaks’ guilty plea on two of eight counts of federal corruption charges didn’t automatically get him off the ballot. I am not someone who will walk away from the absurdity of that and hope someone else will fix it. Time’s up on voters in my district being played.

This case is about power and the integrity of democracy. I joined this case because voters’ rights matter in Maryland’s 41st District. The 63,000 registered Democrats in our district deserve a clean primary ballot on June 26, a state election system that protects voter rights, and candidates focused on representing the people, not gaming the system and making a mockery of our district. As of today, that’s not the case.

The plaintiffs, who set up a GoFundMe page to help cover their legal costs, also include Elinor Mitchell and Chris Ervin. Both are candidates for the 41st District Democratic State Central Committee.

Ervin and Lewin were among a group of 10 district residents trying to prevent Oaks from being able to vote on his own interim replacement.

The group yesterday petitioned the Baltimore City State Democratic Central Committee, asking that Oaks be removed from the 41st District central committee.

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