Election theft ruled out

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Investigations into alleged vote fraud during November's gubernatorial election uncovered "error, poor judgment, negligence, outright incompetence" and other problems, but no evidence of a criminal conspiracy that tainted the race, state and federal authorities said yesterday as they closed separate inquiries.

"Investigators found evidence of isolated irregularities but found no evidence of a concerted, organized effort to steal the election," said U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia.

The conclusions followed months of allegations that a sophisticated vote fraud campaign led to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's narrow victory over Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, who lost by 5,993 votes.

Mrs. Sauerbrey and her supporters had charged that votes were cast in the names of dead people, that voters listed abandoned houses as their addresses and that unknown people had tampered with voting machines.

But the state prosecutor and FBI agents said they concluded otherwise after reviewing thousands of election records and interviewing scores of voters, poll workers, campaigners and election officials.

"There is not a single person whom we can identify as a witness who can give evidence of personal knowledge or observation that a conspiracy existed," State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli wrote in a 150-page report, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun.

Apparently, the only criminal charges being considered stem from evidence that seven people might have voted twice. That issue remains under investigation.

Mrs. Sauerbrey, who said she was working her way through the lengthy report yesterday afternoon, yielded little ground.

"The report indeed cites hundreds of irregularities and violations VTC ranging from breakdowns in the machines to numbers that don't add up," she said.

"I have to believe that because of a lack of resources, the special prosecutor was not able to prove that there was a criminal conspiracy. But it certainly does not say that no fraud occurred."

Mr. Montanarelli declined to discuss the report, saying he would let it "speak for itself."

A spokeswoman for Mr. Glendening said his office also was reviewing the report. "We're hopeful that it is all said and done now," said Dianna D. Rosborough, the governor's press secretary. "It validates what we've said all along -- that there was no criminal wrongdoing."

Point by point, the investigators addressed more than 20 specific accusations that had cast doubt on the election results.

The inquiries, which centered on Baltimore polls, found no evidence of "phantom" voters or of anyone tampering with voting machines. Some discrepancies in vote tallies resulted from antiquated voting equipment, they said, and others were caused by the failure of poll judges to record the names of voters accurately as they entered the polls.

Despite claims that 89 votes were cast in the names of dead people, FBI investigators couldn't find any such cases, said Timothy P. McNally, special agent in charge of the FBI's Maryland-Delaware field office. The nearest they came was when they "found one person who had voted then died a week after the election," he said.

But he said he had no doubt that the investigation was justified.

"From a perception standpoint, there were very reasonable grounds to ask questions and seek some specifics," he said.

Investigators determined that the failure of some election judges to return the keys that secure voting machines resulted from their negligence or mistakes by police officers who were not properly instructed in the proper procedures.

The state prosecutor's report criticized Barbara Jackson, administrator of the Baltimore Board of Supervisors of Elections, for failing to make sure that the names of voters who had not been to the polls in five years were purged from the rolls. But there was no evidence that her failure was anything more than negligence or a miscommunication, Mr. Montanarelli's report said.

The prosecutor also noted that Ms. Jackson failed to register a change of address for herself in the mid-1980s after moving to Baltimore County but that the statute of limitations prohibits prosecuting her.

Ms. Jackson said she was "pleased" by the findings.

"It's not a bad report," she said yesterday. "I hope this will end things. It's what I knew all along -- there was no fraud in our office or outside of our office."

The 2,300 election judges who oversee city precincts now receive more detailed instructions as a result of the problems during the general election, she said. Preprinted voting cards will prevent errors in recording names of voters in the September election, and the board has developed better methods of tallying mechanical votes, she said.

After the Nov. 8 election, Mrs. Sauerbrey and her supporters first tried to challenge the results in court.

In her unprecedented lawsuit, she claimed there were 51,000 questionable votes -- primarily in Baltimore and in Montgomery and Prince George's counties -- and asked a judge to overturn the election.

When the case went to trial, her lawyers were able to question only about 3,600 votes, and the suit was thrown out.

STATE PROSECUTOR'S FINDINGS

The state prosecutor's report addressed numerous allegations of electoral fraud stemming from the gubernatorial election:

* Allegation: Thousands of phantom or ineligible voters cast ballots in the election, including dead people, prison inmates and voters with addresses that were vacant houses.

Result: No evidence was found that any of those means was used in a vote fraud conspiracy.

* Allegation: The Baltimore elections board failed to purge more than 30,000 ineligible voters before the election, as required by law. Those voters should have been removed from the rolls because they had not voted in the previous five years.

Result: There is no evidence that city election officials acted or failed to act for a corrupt purpose.

* Allegation: Baltimore officials purged ineligible voters from the rolls at a higher rate in predominantly white precincts, the home of large numbers of "crossover Democrats" who in the past have voted for Republican candidates.

Result: The allegation was not corroborated by documentary evidence.

* Allegation: At least a dozen security keys for voting machines in Baltimore were unaccounted for after the polls closed in November, and about 900 envelopes in which the keys were returned to election officials were destroyed.

Result: The failure to return keys resulted from negligence or mistakes, not from a corrupt purpose. The Election Code has no provision stating that envelopes must be preserved.

* Allegation: There were discrepancies between unofficial results and official results. In particular, a group of volunteers for Ellen R. Sauerbrey alleged that the number of votes cast for governor in Baltimore exceeded the total number of people who voted by more than 5,800.

Result: Based on an audit of 30 precincts, no evidence was found of a criminal conspiracy.

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