- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 5, 2002

The Maryland attorney general told the state Democratic Party yesterday that its plan to pay workers to gets voters to polls is illegal unless the workers refrain from advocating a candidate or party.
In response, Democrats said they would proceed with paying $75 or $100 each to thousands of people to go door to door and urge people to vote in Baltimore, Prince George's County and elsewhere, with strict instructions about not campaigning.
The state's tight gubernatorial race has both parties closely watching the election process today, with Republicans enlisting off-duty police officers to watch for irregularities at Baltimore polls and Democrats assembling a legal team to watch for voter-suppression activities.
Democrats have also accused the Republicans of soliciting paid Election Day workers by posting fliers at Bowie State University and sending e-mails to other college students. There have also been reports that Republicans are discouraging turnout by black Baltimore voters with fliers citing the wrong election date, Nov. 6, that also warn voters to take care of outstanding tickets and warrants before entering the polls.
Paul D. Ellington, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said the charges were baseless.
Shareese DeLeaver, campaign spokeswoman for Republican gubernatorial nominee Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said staffers did not post the fliers, send the e-mail messages nor engage in other efforts to pay Election Day workers or suppress turnout.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ehrlich and Democratic nominee Kathleen Kennedy Townsend made a final campaign push yesterday, with a marathon of campaign stops in the key battlegrounds of Baltimore and suburban Washington.
A recent poll showed that Mr. Ehrlich, a Baltimore County congressman, had extended his lead over Mrs. Townsend, the lieutenant governor, beyond the poll's margin of error. His campaign staff was "cautiously optimistic" yesterday as their candidate toured Prince George's County, Annapolis and Baltimore. But they openly discussed their fears of election fraud.
"We are confident but concerned with the integrity of the polls," Miss DeLeaver said.
She also said Republicans plan to post off-duty, nonuniformed police officers at polling stations in Baltimore to show that the party is willing to do "whatever is necessary to ensure we have a level playing field on Election Day."
Baltimore has a history of high Democratic turnout and high ballot overcounts, in which the number of votes counted exceeds the number of signed voter cards at the polling stations. In the contested 1994 gubernatorial election, Baltimore registered about 6,000 overcounted ballots, enough to have changed the outcome.
Numerous court challenges and investigations did not uncover wrongdoing.
This year, the Democrats have assembled a team of more than 100 lawyers to watch for intimidation or coercion to stop voters from casting ballots, said David Paulson, spokesman for the party's statewide campaign.
"They will be looking for subtle techniques and tactics [such as] messages, intimidation, coercion to keep the vote down in areas where Republicans traditionally don't do well," he said. "We think Republicans have made that same effort in other places."
State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said his office and police would monitor election activity as usual today and that the Democratic Party would be prosecuted if workers promoted candidates or the party after receiving "walk-around money," an Election Day payoff once common in state politics but banned in the late 1970s.
Mr. Montanarelli said he recognized the appearance of impropriety created by the Democrats' plan, but the opinion by Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. left the door open for some paid Election Day activities.
"If they are going to pay people to do this on Election Day, they are responsible if anything goes wrong," said Mr. Montanarelli, who was appointed state prosecutor by Democratic Gov. Harry Hughes in 1984.
Maryland prohibits paying walk-around money for such Election Day work as distributing campaign literature, promoting candidates, blocking access to polls, electioneering and canvassing.
Mr. Curran, a Democrat who is up for election today, advised Mr. Montanarelli that the Democrats' paid voter drive will be illegal if they promote candidates, including those for federal offices, or if workers are paid in advance for training to perform outlawed activities such as distributing campaign literature on Election Day.
"It is conceivable that an individual who simply urged a voter to perform his or her civic duty could do so in a neutral manner," Mr. Curran wrote in a letter to Mr. Montanarelli. "That would not fall within the definition of walk-around services."
The Democratic Party's Mr. Paulson said the party would pay Election Day workers as planned for a nonpartisan get-out-the-vote effort. He also said the Republican Party should applaud the party for encouraging voter participation.
"We will have strict instructions and training and supervision to make sure [campaigning] doesn't happen," he said. "Mistakes happen, God only knows."
The state Republican Party was skeptical about paid Democrats conducting a nonpartisan voter drive.
"For Democrats to argue that they will be embarking on a nonpartisan, altruistic effort to encourage all voters to the polls is an insult to the intelligence of Maryland citizens," said Dan Ronayne, state Republican Party spokesman.
On the campaign trail, Mrs. Townsend attempted to solidify her hold on the traditionally Democratic and voter-rich Washington suburbs as Mr. Ehrlich continued to chase votes there.
Mr. Ehrlich was leading Mrs. Townsend 51 percent to 46 percent, with a 3.6 percent margin of error in a Survey USA poll conducted over the weekend for WJLA-TV Channel 7. Mr. Ehrlich's campaign team reported that internal polls showed he has as much as nine percentage points.
"I'm feeling good," Mr. Ehrlich said yesterday afternoon while campaigning in downtown Annapolis. "But you are never overly confident."
The Annapolis tour was sandwiched between visits to an elementary school and a senior center in Prince George's County, and a visit to Baltimore, where he waved campaign signs with city police officers at a busy downtown intersection.
"This is the meet and greet, press the flesh and just do everything we can to turn out the vote," campaign spokesman Henry Fawell said during a stop at Rogers Heights Elementary School in Bladensburg, where Mr. Ehrlich read a book about Maryland history to fourth- and fifth-graders.
After campaign stops in Baltimore, Mrs. Townsend drove into Prince George's County on her campaign bus. She knocked on doors and handed out campaign literature in Kettering, shook hands with workers at a Landover supermarket, then greeted commuters at the Bethesda Metro station.
"I need to make sure the people know that I am fighting for the things they care about like prescription drugs, health care and education," Mrs. Townsend said. "The challenge is to bring people together so we can easily solidify the base."
Vaishali Honowar contributed to this report.


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