- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OP-ED:

The longest presidential campaign in history has finally come to an end, but there are a few congressional races around the country that have yet to conclude. Maryland’s 1st District seat, currently held by Republican Wayne Gilchrest, is but one of them.

Mr. Gilchrest was handily defeated in the February primary by Republican state Sen. Andy Harris. Mr. Harris, an anesthesiologist who is known as one of the most conservative members of the Maryland Senate, waged an aggressive primary challenge against the moderate Mr. Gilchrest.

Meanwhile, Democrat Frank Kratovil, the Queen Anne’s County state’s attorney, was able to sit on the sidelines during the heated primary.

Once the primary resulted in the defeat of Mr. Gilchrest, Mr. Kratovil went on the attack. Democrats smelled blood in the water and dumped millions of dollars into the race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) dumped enormous amounts of money into television ads that excoriated Mr. Harris. Mr. Kratovil enjoyed an additional boost when he was endorsed by Mr. Gilchrest, the Republican who had just been defeated by Mr. Harris.

This is where geography really comes into play. Both Messrs. Gilchrest and Kratovil live on Maryland’s Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Mr. Harris lives on the Western Shore. Mr. Kratovil was able to parlay the Gilchrest endorsement and his Eastern Shore residence into a battle divided by a beloved estuary.

Given the fact that the DCCC went to such great lengths to attempt to defeat Mr. Harris, it should not come as much of a surprise that they are now using any tactics necessary to ensure Mr. Kratovil’s victory. On election night, Mr. Kratovil was leading Mr. Harris by less than 1,000 votes. That margin was clearly not enough for the Democrats because they did everything possible to challenge the legitimacy of absentee ballots in Mr. Harris’ strongest counties on Maryland’s Western Shore.

Nowhere was the extent of the DCCC’s desire for victory more evident than in Harford County.

Harford County is considered to be a Republican stronghold in the vastly liberal state of Maryland. Almost 60 percent of Harford’s voters backed Sen. John McCain in this election. In 2002, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. won 74 percent of the Harford vote. Mr. Kratovil’s strategy was to minimize the damage caused to his campaign by Harford County voters.

In order to ensure a Democratic victory, at least one lawyer was dispatched from Washington, D.C. to Harford County. During the first count of absentee ballots, the Democratic attorneys literally challenged every absentee ballot cast by Harford County voters. One challenge was due to a directive of the State Board of Elections that told local boards to remove a strip of paper from the absentee ballots so that they could be counted. The Harford County Board of Elections followed proper procedure, but the zealous Democratic attorneys argued vehemently that every ballot should be disqualified. As egregious as that tactic may sound, the Democratic attorneys then demanded that the envelopes used to mail the absentee ballots be kept with the actual ballot that was inside. This would have, of course, destroyed the concept of the secret ballot.

As a final insult, the last half-hour of the first day of absentee counts was spent by the Democratic attorneys arguing that voters from nursing homes who required assistance should not have their votes counted even though the law clearly allows this practice.

Adding to the real shame of this debacle is that so many of our troops use absentee ballots. Many more of those ballots will be counted on Friday. The Democratic attorneys have intimidated local elections officials and used hardball tactics on behalf of Mr. Kratovil. In the process, they have shown a disregard for the will of the voters. Our nation depends on its citizens to engage in the electoral process. Any efforts that appear to disenfranchise voters only serve to weaken us.

As we move forward as a nation and a new generation comes of age, voting must continue to be cherished by all who are entrusted to protect the right to do so.

Michael A. Geppi is chairman of the Harford County, Md., Republican Party and 3rd vice chairman of the Maryland Republican Party.

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