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Watchdog group charges some voters are not being allowed to vote

A watchdog group filed a lawsuit Friday against the city and state boards of election for failing to accommodate voting for people who are incarcerated but not convicted of a crime.

The group, Voters for the Integrity of City Elections, or VOICE, estimates that 1,100 people are awaiting trial in state-run correctional facilities in the city who are registered to vote and another 700 are eligible to vote but not registered. There are perhaps thousands more in county facilities, said the group, though the lawsuit would not apply to them.

The suit, filed in Baltimore Circuit Court, contends that these incarcerated people are legally entitled to vote, but there is no policy in place to allow election officials into the facilities or to train correction officials to handle elections duties.

"Just because they are behind bars they don't lose their constitutional right to register and vote," said Hassan Giordano, a plaintiff and organizer for VOICE, which formed after the primary elections this year in response to what the group said were irregularities in the handling of ballots.

VOICE filed a lawsuit calling for a rerun of the primary election, but a federal judge threw the case out earlier this month, concluding in part that the plaintiffs waited too long to file the complaint.

The Baltimore City Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment, and a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Board of Elections declined to comment because she had not seen the lawsuit.

Donna Duncan, assistant deputy for election policy with the state board, noted that the deadline to register to vote was Oct. 18.

But J. Wyndal Gordon, the attorney who filed the suit on behalf of VOICE, said that residents are allowed same-day registration during the early-voting period, which began Oct. 27.

Gordon acknowledged during a news conference Friday that time is short before the election, Nov. 8, but argued that it would be possible to train volunteers and send them to the correctional facilities in Baltimore quickly. He said he was only alerted there may be a problem about two weeks ago by another attorney, Latoya Francis-Williams.

"This is an important election," he said. "But those in the physical custody of the state are not being afforded their rights."

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