Federal Court in Maryland Affirms Right of Houseboat Resident to Run for Political Office

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
June 23, 2003 12:00 am

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BALTIMORE — Ending an unusual election rights case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, a federal district court judge today ruled that a man living on a houseboat in Port Deposit can vote and run for public office in that town.

The ACLU of Maryland had filed a lawsuit in 2002 on behalf of Michael A. Dooling, Sr., of Port Deposit-a small town located at the base of the Susquehanna River in Cecil County. Municipal officials invalidated Dooling’s candidacy for Town Council because he lives on a houseboat. The lawsuit claimed the town’s termination of Dooling’s candidacy infringed upon his right to vote and to participate fully in the political process.

“Today’s ruling is an important validation for our client,” said Debbie Jeon, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland. “But it is bizarre that Dooling was forced to go to federal court to affirm what he already knew: that he is a resident of Port Deposit.”

Although Dooling’s name had been listed on the voter registry of Port Deposit since at least 1999, town officials had never raised any question about his residency with the county board — even after they voided his candidacy on grounds of his “lack of residency.” Further, as the ACLU pointed out in legal papers, Dooling was permitted to vote in the May 2001 election from which he had been barred as a candidate.

In a memorandum to counsel, Judge Andre M. Davis wrote that town’s attorney had produced a “deeply flawed analysis of the relevant issues,” provided “an unfortunate piece of advice” to the town and employed “distracting red herrings” in formulating the town’s defense.

Defendants named in the lawsuit are the Town of Port Deposit and the Town’s Board of Supervisors of Elections, former Mayor Wayne Tome, and Election Board Chairman Arthur M. Doty, III.

“I am pleased with the judge’s decision,” said Dooling. “I was denied the right to run for office and now my right to participate in the political process has been affirmed by the federal court.”

Plaintiffs in the case were represented by Thomas X. Glancy of Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger & Hollander, and Jeon and Rajeev Goyle of the ACLU of Maryland.

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