On Election Day 2010, with the polls still open, computers placed calls to 112,000 voters in predominately African-American precincts in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County with an unusual message: “Relax” and stay home. The recorded message did not identify the calls’ sponsor; essentially, it told voters that Gov. Martin O’Malley had won and they did not need to vote.
Such campaign “dirty tricks” have been part of Maryland elections for years, pursued by both parties largely because the perpetrators judged they would neither be caught nor prosecuted.
In any case, there now are hopeful signs that such hijinks may soon be a thing of the past. A Baltimore grand jury recently returned criminal indictments against two aides to former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., charging them with arranging the robocalls in a scheme to suppress voter turnout in heavily Democratic areas. One of the defendants, Julius Henson, also is among the targets of a multimillion-dollar civil suit filed by Maryland and U.S. officials.
Of course, an indictment is not a conviction, and defendants Paul Schurick and Mr. Henson will have their day in court. But just by bringing the charges, prosecutors and the grand jurors have sent a welcome and critical message to the state’s political establishment: Voter suppression is not a clever political tactic; it’s a crime — and the state will treat it as one.
It would be nice if that message traveled well beyond Maryland. While state legislators in much of the country are purporting to fight “voter fraud” by introducing bills to require voters to produce written or photographic identification at the polls, available evidence in recent years suggests that voter suppression is a far larger problem: