Monday, Feb. 4, 2008

Judge gives 17-year-olds right to vote in nonpartisan elections

Attorney General’s Office files appeal

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The Maryland Attorney General’s Office appealed Monday a ruling issued Friday by an Anne Arundel County judge that 17-year-olds have the right to vote in nonpartisan elections as long as they are 18 by the date of the general election.

The Maryland Court of Appeals has scheduled a Friday hearing on the appeal, said Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler.

‘‘We believe we correctly applied the initial case,” Guillory said.

Circuit Court Judge Paul Hackner’s decision hinged on an 1896 court opinion that the state constitution did not apply to non-mandated elections.

The attorney general’s office had issued a memo in 2006 that 17-year-olds would not be allowed to vote in the primary elections, but reversed its decision to allow them to vote in the partisan primaries because the parties were allowed to make their own rules.

However, the attorney general’s office had advised the State Board Of Elections to not allow them to vote in nonpartisan races such as those held for school board.

Hackner ruled the limits in the constitution only applied to elections mandated by the constitution. School board and other nonpartisan races did not fall under that category, said attorney Jonathan Shurberg, who represented a Bethesda teenager, Sarah Boltuck, and her father, Richard Boltuck.

‘‘Unfortunately there are going to be victims even if we succeed because they didn’t know they’ll be able to vote,” said Richard Boltuck, who got involved in response to his daughter’s voter registration’s rejection. ‘‘All of this confusion, which is not their fault, has denied some people their fundamental right to vote.”

Hackner agreed to a motion to allow the order to stand for all 17-year-olds who turn 18 by the general election and not just those who had filed the lawsuit.