LARGO — Former state’s attorney candidate Bruce Johnson filed a lawsuit against the Prince George’s County Board of Elections (BOE) on Aug. 31 for rejecting over 500 voter signatures keeping him off the ballot for the November election.
Five months ago, Johnson decided to run for state’s attorney as an Independent after concerns that none of the three candidates who ran in the primary had significant criminal trial experience.
Because Johnson decided to run after the filing deadline, the BOE required that he collect signatures from at least one percent of registered voters in the county.
Johnson successfully exceeded the requirement by collecting over 7,200 signatures. However, the BOE rejected 541 signatures from his petition that did not include the required middle initial, signed with their married name instead of their maiden name or gave an unreadable signature, and did not place him on the ballot.
According to Election Law, Section 6-203, “To sign a petition, an individual shall: sign the individual’s name as it appears on the statewide voter registration list or the individual’s surname of registration and at least one full given name and the initials of any other names.”
After review by the BOE, the signature is accepted as long as the signer provided one of the surnames in their registration and at least one full given name and the initials of any other names, the individual has not previously signed the same petition and, if applicable, it was signed within the requisite period of time, as specified by law.
However, Johnson says that the BOE uses the rule unfairly to limit third-party candidates and stop people’s desire to have other candidates outside of the mainstream running for all offices.
“I feel as if, as an organization, that the Board of Elections is unfairly stopping people’s right to vote in their first amendment right to participate in the election process,” Johnson said. “They signed a petition, and they clearly signed it with the intent of giving me an opportunity to be an option in November.”
According to The Independent Party of Maryland, this is not an unlawful way to block access to the ballot if this is BOE policy.
“If Bruce Johnson’s Voter Petition people did not get the registered voters to fill out the Ballot Access Petition Form properly, then that is, of course, an administrative error that can easily be fixed, but it is not an unlawful or illegal way to block access to the ballot,” said Independent Party of Maryland Chairman Terry Wheelock. “As long as Republicans and Democrats are held to the same scrutiny or standard, that is equal protection or responsibility by law.”
Instead, The Independent Party feels as though the BOE is blocking ballot access by not properly classifying third party candidates. To run as an Independent the candidate must be a member of The Independent Party, which Johnson was not, or they should be classified as Unaffiliated or No Party so not to confuse policy platforms.
“This is the just one of the tactics that Republicans and Democrats are using to perpetuate the ‘broken two-party system’ and confuse the voters by not recognizing parties, creating unattainable or confusing requirements, blocking or obstructing ballot access of candidates and parties other than Republicans and Democrats, which limits the voters to the ‘lesser of the two evils,’” Wheelock said.
Johnson was a prosecutor for four and a half years and then worked at a law firm in Washington, D.C. for two and a half years where he first started doing criminal defense work. Also, he did business law and real estate. In 2000, he opened up his own practice. He has tried over 150 felony jury trials and handled over 1,400 misdemeanor cases in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia.
“Rather than complain about the slate of candidates, I decided to become one and give voters a chance to choose someone who knows the job and who would be honored to serve the job and do the best to make their office better.”
The other three candidates running for state’s attorney were Aisha Braveboy,Victor Ramirez and Michael Lyles. Braveboy spent 12 years as a lawyer and has served as a state delegate for eight years. She won the primary election with over 60 percent of the vote.
Ramirez served as a state senator and practiced law as a trial attorney in the area of criminal and civil rights law since 2001. Lyles also ran with criminal and civil trial experience and was executive director of the Human Relations Commission. All three candidates ran as Democrats.
Johnson wanted to bring a balanced approach to the position with his years of experience as a defense attorney having worked with people who have been charged wrongfully, have to pay a bond or a lawyer and have served a few days in jail. Along with his experience, he felt that he could bring a different perspective to the county by running as an Independent.
“I think the prevailing view, especially in Prince George’s County, pushes the Democratic Party,” Johnson said. “What I’ve found running as an Independent is that these folks don’t want the competition from another party. They want to push the Democratic Party to be the end all be all of the political process, and I don’t think it’s beyond the thought that those in the election process feel the same way.”