Developer sues Anne Arundel County, alleges petition fraud

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cordish Cos. sued the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections on Tuesday, alleging that it was overlooking "glaring and massive" fraud in a petition drive seeking to derail the developer's plans to build a slots casino at Arundel Mills mall.

The suit, filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, comes amid an effort to give voters a say on whether Cordish should be granted zoning approval to build the 4,750-machine casino.

As of Tuesday, the elections board had verified 13,136 voter signatures presented by the coalition, which includes surrounding homeowners and the operators of Laurel Park racetrack, who would like to see slots there instead.

If 18,790 valid signatures are presented by March 8, the zoning measure will go on the November ballot in the county.

The suit alleges that the elections board is "violating its statutory duties to enforce measures designed to prevent . . . fraud."

"I don't think there's any merit to the claim," said James C. Praley, a lawyer for the elections board. Praley noted that the board had thrown out about half the signatures submitted by the coalition because they didn't comply with rules for petition drives. "The bottom line is we're doing what we're supposed to be doing," he said.

Heather Ford, a spokeswoman for the coalition, which has employed paid signature-gatherers, said the lawsuit "seems like an act of pure desperation."

"Cordish must have realized that the coalition will have substantially more than enough petition signatures to place the zoning ordinance on the November ballot," Ford said.

Andrew C. White, a lawyer for Cordish, said the lawsuit "speaks for itself."

"It goes to the heart of the integrity of the electoral process, and whether or not election boards should or should not concern themselves with issues of fraud," White said.

Cordish is seeking an injunction that would require the elections board to investigate allegations of fraud and "take appropriate action in response."

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