Court Rejects Perez Bid, Early Voting Law in Md.

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By Steve Vogel and Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 26, 2006

Maryland's highest court yesterday tossed Democratic candidate Tom Perez out of the running for attorney general, ruling that he did not meet a constitutional requirement that candidates for the job practice law in Maryland for 10 years.

In a separate ruling, the Court of Appeals also rejected the state's early voting law 11 days before it was to go into effect for the first time, dealing a blow to Democrats who had hoped the extra polling days would bring out more of the party faithful in the fall.

That decision affirmed a ruling made two weeks ago by an Anne Arundel Circuit Court that said the state constitution does not authorize voting on any day other than Election Day. In the Perez case, the high court overturned a lower court's decision.

Perez, a Montgomery County Council member who gave up an easy reelection bid to pursue the statewide office, ran a vigorous campaign, raising more than $500,000, winning endorsements from several key unions and recently airing his first television ad, which was still running yesterday evening in Baltimore.

Perez, who sat grim-faced during oral arguments yesterday morning, said that he was "deeply disappointed" but would "play by the rules."

"I am humbled and grateful for the support that I have received across this great and beautiful state," he said in a statement, committing his support to the Democratic ticket for governor.

Perez did not say whom, if anyone, he would endorse for attorney general in the party's Sept. 12 primary: Montgomery State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler or Baltimore lawyer Stuart O. Simms, a former state Cabinet secretary.

"That's the question on everyone's mind," said Luke Clippinger, Perez's campaign spokesman.

Perez, seeking to become the first Latino elected to statewide office in Maryland history, had won endorsements from the AFL-CIO, the state teachers union, the Sierra Club and unions representing local police officers and sheriff's deputies.

The pair of rulings this close to the primary left election officials scrambling to comply. The Perez decision in particular creates problems, because many of the state's electronic voting machines have been individually programmed with his name on the ballot. Moreover, absentee ballots with his name have been printed and in some cases submitted.

"The court order presents a very real and insurmountable order at this late date," said Mary Cramer Wagner, director of voter registration at the State Board of Elections.

It was unclear if absentee ballots cast for Perez would be thrown out or if those voters would be able to vote again. "We're trying to work out" those questions, Wagner said.

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