ACLU Calls on Eastern Shore Town to Rescind
Unconstitutional Candidate Law, Re-Run Illegal Election



October 12, 2011

CONTACT: Meredith Curtis, ACLU of Maryland, 410-889-8555;

Stunned to see Confederate-style election practices enforced in modern-day Maryland, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland is demanding that officials in the small town of Mardela Springs immediately rescind an unconstitutional property ownership requirement used in the Town's August 1, 2011 election to prevent legally qualified candidates from running for office. The ACLU is urging the Town to take a stand for principles of democracy and election fairness by using a special election, already scheduled for November, as an opportunity to re-run the flawed August election in its entirety. In any case, the ACLU demands that the property requirement be abandoned for the November election and all future elections.

"A requirement like this, linking rights of political participation to property ownership, recalls a darker era in our nation's past - an ugly time of poll taxes and literacy tests, a time when only the landed gentry could have a say in government," said ACLU of Maryland Legal Director Deborah Jeon. "While the Mardela Springs law is an oddity today, once upon a time so-called ‘freeholder' requirements were a common part of state and local election codes, designed to muffle the voices of African Americans and poor people. Such laws limiting political participation to those of a certain economic station offend our most basic principles of equality and representative democracy."

The ACLU letter says the Mardela Charter provision - which it calls "blatantly unconstitutional" - was employed in the August election to prevent legally qualified candidates from running for office. It further asserts that the law has been misinterpreted by residents or officials as disqualifying those who do not own real estate from even voting in Mardela Springs elections.

"Town officials are stifling people's right to be part of the government and making renters believe that have no vote," said Henry M. Osowiecki, who owns rental property and personal property in Mardela Springs and has spoken with concerned renters about the issue. "I just can't comprehend why they don't want people to participate in the government. Some renters have even thought about buying a cemetery plot in order to have the right to vote."

Over four decades ago, the Supreme Court found that property ownership requirements for candidates violate the United States Constitution and general democratic principles of representative government. The ACLU argues that the planned special election in November to replace one Town Commissioner offers an opportunity officials should welcome to admit their mistakes and make amends to residents by re-running the election in its entirety. At minimum, the ACLU says, the Town must immediately rescind or suspend enforcement of its unconstitutional property ownership requirement or face legal action.


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