CONSPICUOUSLY absent from last week's meeting of the Task Force to Review the State's Election Law was one Ellen R. Sauerbrey.
Mrs. Sauerbrey, who lost the governor's race to Democrat Parris N. Glendening by just 5,993 votes last year, was long scheduled to appear.
But at the last minute, she apparently decided that discretion is the better part of a political future and canceled.
Instead, she sent a letter to George Beall, the Republican who chairs the task force, listing recommendations for improving the election process -- and saying that "the work of this commission should not be personalized to any one campaign."
Mrs. Sauerbrey has been referred to derisively as "Ellen Sourgrapes" because of her repeated and at times shrill allegations that the election was stolen from her. Those charges, unproven by a variety of investigations and a Circuit Court challenge, prompted creation of the task force.
She appears finally to have embraced the message from many fellow Republicans: Give it up.
"In January I announced that I felt that this issue was not an Ellen Sauerbrey issue -- that it was an issue of fair and honest elections, and the battle should be carried on by citizens," she said in an interview last week. "I believe I can make my point by putting my statement in writing."
There apparently was concern among some Republicans that Democrats on the task force would attempt to make a mockery of her arguments if she showed up to complain again about problems with the election.
In addition, many GOP party regulars are concerned that Mrs. Sauerbrey's political future could be in jeopardy if she continues beating the drum about the election being stolen.
Her loss had become a rallying point for a host of frustrated voters -- Republicans, Democrats and Independents -- who were stunned to discover how imperfect the electoral process can be and who began to see a conspiracy behind the sloppiness.
In fact, some of her supporters, who first banded together last year to investigate election irregularities for her unsuccessful court challenge in January, have evolved into VOTER (Voters Organized Toward Electoral Reform) Inc., whose members did speak Thursday.
VOTER's concerns and recommendations were heard in detail, and it was clear that its members, too, were steering away from complaining about Mrs. Sauerbrey's loss and focusing more on flaws in the process.
"I think Ellen realizes that she needed to put this behind her, that there are others out there, like the VOTER group, who are taking up the cause for better elections," said Joyce Lyons Terhes, chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party.
"She needs to concentrate on her message, on what almost got her to be governor," she said.
Mrs. Sauerbrey not only is concentrating on her message, but spreading it across the state, often times on behalf of Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, whose presidential campaign she is heading in Maryland.
And she clearly is aware of the importance of money for her political ambitions: This weekend, she will have her fourth fund-raiser in the past month.
"I think she's keeping all her options open for '98," Ms. Terhes said.
UM professor plans to challenge Bartlett
Steve Crawford,a public policy professor at the University of Maryland College Park, will announce his candidacy in a couple of weeks for the 6th District congressional seat held by conservative Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett.
Mr. Crawford, a 52-year-old Democrat from Frederick, lost a bid for the seat in a seven-way primary last year, but is gearing up again for a run in 1996 as "a fighter for Western Maryland."
He was best known last year for taking his campaign on the Internet.
Schaefer's former Cabinet to celebrate his birthday
Some of the old State House gang will be getting together Thursday to celebrate former Gov. William Donald Schaefer's 74th birthday.
Lainy M. LeBow-Sachs, probably Mr. Schaefer's closest aide, decided to throw a lunchtime bash and invited the former Cabinet secretaries to a downtown Baltimore restaurant to take part.