ANNAPOLIS, OCT. 9 -- Maryland Democrats will require presidential candidates to file delegate slates with equal numbers of men and women to help ensure that the state sends a balanced delegation to the national convention next summer.

That is the key change made in response to a federal court ruling finding the state's plan for electing Democratic convention delegates to be unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Walter E. Black ruled July 29 that the state could not list male and female candidates separately on the ballot and require Democrats to vote for a specified number from each list at the March 8 primary election.

Black said the plan infringed on the "fundamental right to vote by instructing a voter how to allocate his votes."

The state party has appealed Black's ruling and hopes that it will be overturned so the plan used in 1984 can be used again next year.

But state officials got approval from the Democratic National Committee Tuesday to use the alternate approach if the appeal of Black's ruling is unsuccessful.

John Willis, vice chairman of the state Democratic Party and head of the delegate selection committee, said today the party has the legal right to require that presidential contenders file slates with an equal number of men and women.

Delegates elected for a candidate who does not follow the rules would be subject to a challenge, and unseating by the credentials committee, at the convention in Atlanta in July.

Maryland will have 78 delegates to the Democratic Convention, 44 of whom will be elected by voters at the primary. The Democratic State Central Committee will choose 14 at-large delegates, and 20 slots are reserved for party leaders and elected officials.