It’s not uncommon for a candidate who loses an election to cry foul, claiming fraud or voter intimidation as a means to reverse the results in their favor. Generally speaking, a candidate is in a very weak position if his or her only hope for winning the election rests on voter fraud. Most of the time, nothing ever materializes from such accusations. On occasion, the losing candidate will file a lawsuit seeking court intervention to overturn the results. These kinds of cases are difficult to prove and are often unsuccessful.
In November 1994, Ellen Sauerbrey, the Republican candidate for governor, narrowly lost to Paris N. Glendenning by a margin of 5,993 votes. Soon thereafter, Sauerbrey was in court asserting that certain voters, primarily in Baltimore City, listed addresses that were connected to abandoned or razed buildings and that the whereabouts of these voters could not be confirmed. In the end though, Sauerbrey’s lawyers could only prove that 3,600 votes of the entire vote count were fraudulent, which was certainly not enough to sway the election in the other direction.
However, as we see from the Sauerbrey case, Baltimore City has been fraught with allegations of voter irregularities for decades. Thus, it is no surprise that Baltimore City is under scrutiny again for its management of polling places and ballots, among other alleged irregularities. This time around, the allegations are coming from the losing candidates in April’s mayoral and city council races. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon, while making clear that she will not contest the election results, where she lost to State Sen. Catherine Pugh by some 2,500 votes, has called for an investigation as to why certain polling stations opened late.
Betsy Gardner, who lost to Yitzy Schleifer by some 550 votes in the 5th District, where most of the readers of the WWW reside, also will accept the results. But, Gardner told the Baltimore Sun that she is disheartened that some voters were given a ballot for the wrong district. According to Gardner, some voters were also turned away from a polling station, because an election judge was not provided with correct information on which district was supposed to be voting at that particular voting station. If true, that is totally unacceptable.
Emblematic of Baltimore City’s dysfunction in overseeing voting, the Board of Elections at first certified the results as being final. Then they had second thoughts and decided to decertify the results, heeding the calls of Dixon to conduct an investigation of the voting process. Some of our readers are now questioning whether decertification means that Dixon or Gardner could somehow prevail over Pugh or Schleifer.
Let me take this opportunity to reassure our readers. The results will not be overturned. Yitzy Schleifer will be the 5th District’s next councilman. Even in the unlikely scenario that Dixon, Gardner, and the other candidates could prove that some of the votes were cast in a fraudulent manner, they would have enormous difficulty – much as Ellen Sauerbrey had back in 1994 – to substantiate that the entire difference in votes was tainted by fraud.
Furthermore, the Board of Elections has made it clear that the decertification of the results is not a recount. As Baltimore City Board of Elections election director Armstead B.C. Jones told WBAL’s Jayne Miller, “It has nothing to do with votes.” The purpose of decertifying the results is for the Board of Elections to conduct an audit in a quest to match the paperwork with the number of voters who cast votes. Once all of the paperwork is matched up, the results will be recertified. It is unclear what will happen if the missing paperwork does not resurface. But the Baltimore City Board of Elections appears confident that everything will ultimately fall in place, which unfortunately is not a sign of confidence for a jurisdiction that is notorious for inept administration of balloting.
What Sheila Dixon and her colleagues are really hoping will arise out of the audit is a complete overhaul of Baltimore City’s election system. As Dixon recently stated, “I also encourage the Board of Elections to rectify the issues with judges and training, late poll openings, and collection of election day data before the November elections, so that the people of Baltimore have full faith in the administration of elections in our city.” There may also be another motive behind Dixon’s sensible approach to her losing the election. By not pursuing any legal challenges and leading this so-called movement of election change, Dixon is hoping that her image will improve just in time for the next election, whenever that may occur. However, something tells me that Dixon’s gift card scandal will continue to plague her for the indefinite future.
Whether or not Dixon chooses to run again, voting problems in Baltimore City will likely linger for the upcoming elections if history is any indicator – unless, of course, Yitzy Schleifer has any input in the matter.
Brad E. Kauffman is a practicing attorney in Towson. His articles have been published in the Washington Times, Jerusalem Post, and AMI magazine. Kauffman can be reached via Twitter @kauffman126.