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Documents show matter-of-fact approach to suppressing black votes

One document proposed a message for African-Americans: 'Don't vote'

By Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun

8:51 PM EST, November 30, 2011

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State prosecutors rested their election fraud case Wednesday against a top aide to former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. after introducing matter-of-fact campaign documents addressing a plan to suppress African-American votes.

The documents, seized by FBI agents through raids and subpoenas in their investigation of Ehrlich campaign manager Paul Schurick and political consultant Julius Henson, show the activities of Henson's company, Universal Elections Inc., in the buildup to the November 2010 gubernatorial election.

Notes from Henson employee Rhonda Russell two months before the election containthe phrase "suppress turnout in black communities" next to the number 100,000. Another document, prepared by Henson and recovered from Ehrlich campaign computers, proposes a strategy for messaging to send to black communities. The first message proposed: "Don't vote."

Schurick, 55, of Crownsville is on trial in Baltimore Circuit Court, facing two counts of conspiracy and one count each of election fraud and obstruction of justice. Henson, who faces similar charges, is being tried separately. His court date is Feb. 6. The two men are accused of planning an election-night "robocall" to voters in Baltimore city and Prince George's County, telling them to "relax" and that Gov. Martin O'Malley and President Barack Obama, who was not on the ballot, had been "successful" in that day's election.

In addition to reviewing the alleged Henson plan to suppress black voting, prosecutors also attempted to show Wednesday that Schurick knew of the call before it was made.

Russell, whom Schurick attorney A. Dwight Pettit dubbed the state's "star witness," testified Wednesday that she recorded the anonymous, automated robocall that went out to 112,000 Democratic households in the two jurisdictions.

She testified that Henson told her not to include an Ehrlich campaign authority line at the end of the call.

"He stated the client didn't want it," she said.

She also testified that Henson, who wrote the script of the message, directed her to overbill the Ehrlich campaign for the call and say the message went to 200,000 voters instead of 112,000.

Though called by the prosecution, Russell provided some testimony that could be useful for Schurick's defense. Pettit has argued that the robocall was designed to motivate voters to head to the polls, not to trick them and prevent them from voting.

She said Henson told her the call was designed to be "counterintuitive."

"It's sort of using reverse psychology," she testified. "I was told this call would stimulate whoever wanted to vote for Mr. Ehrlich."

Asked why, if that were true, the call was sent only to Democrats, Russell responded that she was too "lazy" to upload the numbers of GOP voters into the robocall system.

"I didn't want to do the work," she said, estimating it would have taken her 20 to 30 minutes to add Republican numbers. "I was lazy."

The jury also heard testimony from Ehrlich's communications director, Henry Fawell; his political director, Bernie Marczyk; and his senior adviser, Greg Massoni. Each man vouched for Schurick's integrity and placed blame for the robocall on Henson.

Fawell testified that he was "appalled" by the contents of the robocall and at the time denied any campaign involvement, until Schurick informed him the campaign was involved.

"Ultimately, this was not a message Bob Ehrlich would approve," Fawell said.

Marczyk testified that in July, the campaign rejected a $600,000 proposal to suppress black votes and that he was so disgusted by the plan he wanted the document out of his possession immediately.

"Julius had a fundamental misunderstanding of what we were trying to do with the African-American community," he said. "His proposal was illegal. He's talking about voter suppression. … It was my understanding that voter suppression was illegal."

Massoni testified that the Ehrlich campaign's contract with Henson called on the consultant to make sure his activities were legal. He said the prosecutors' case against Schurick was an "abuse of power."

"I look at it as an abuse that we're sitting here today, discussing this," he told Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt.

Special Agent John Poliks, an investigator for the state prosecutor's office, testified that Schurick admitted to him that he authorized the robocall but denied that he had heard its contents on Election Day. Poliks provided phone records to the jury to show a copy of the robocall had been sent to the voice mail on Schurick's phone and that he had listened to his voice mail at 6:13 p.m. the day of the election. The robocalls began at 5:55 p.m. and ended at 8 p.m., phone records show.

Defense attorney Pettit has said he plans to call as many as a dozen witnesses to testify about the facts when he begins his presentation Thursday, and as many as 30 character witnesses. He said Ehrlich most likely would be among them.

luke.Broadwater@baltsun.com

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