District 37A race remains unresolved ELECTION 1994

November 11, 1994|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Eastern Shore Bureau of The Sun

SALISBURY -- The Glendening-Sauerbrey election isn't the only one that has candidates biting their nails. The contest for a Maryland House of Delegates district designed to give minorities a bigger role in Annapolis is so close that it may be decided by votes from overseas.

When polls closed Tuesday, Democrat Rudolph C. Cane appeared on the verge of making political history by becoming the first black to win a seat in the General Assembly from the Eastern Shore.

But when absentee ballots were tallied yesterday for District 37A -- a new district that includes parts of Dorchester and Wicomico counties -- Mr. Cane's lead of 21 votes over white GOP rival Don B. Hughes had disappeared. By day's end, Mr. Hughes' 2,786 votes made him the unofficial leader by 15 votes.

A third candidate, black Dorchester County Commissioner Lemuel D. Chester II, ran as an independent and received 1,294 votes.

The official outcome is not likely to be announced before Nov. 18, when election supervisors in both counties will have certified all the votes, including a handful of ballots sent by U.S. military personnel overseas.

Between the two counties, election officials sent 20 ballots overseas, 16 to Wicomico residents and four to voters from Dorchester. To guarantee the privacy of the overseas voters, officials withheld 34 additional absentee ballots, making the maximum total to be counted 54.

But because only a fraction of those uncounted votes will affect the race for District 37A, Mr. Hughes' 15-vote lead gives him the edge in the contest.

Still, with the outcome so uncertain, neither man was ready yesterday to predict a winner.

"It's not over yet," said Mr. Cane, 60, who nevertheless attributed his predicament to black voters who did not support him. A Wicomico County commissioner who won his seat in 1990 from a minority district, Mr. Cane said the district has enough minority voters to send the Shore's first black representative to the General Assembly.

"I gave it my best shot," he said. "There were some people in the black community that decided not to support me. They blew it."

Despite charges that he had entered the race as a spoiler, Mr. Hughes said his campaign's "hard work and good organization" appealed to voters throughout the district. He conceded that he was a lifelong Democrat until he joined the Republican Party this summer before entering the race, but he insisted that party affiliation had little to do with his politics.

"My outlook is that people are people," said the 53-year-old farmer. "I don't see this as a minority district. This is 37A." But if Mr. Hughes wins the election, he can thank civil rights activists for helping create the new district he would represent.

After state officials failed to include a minority district on the Eastern Shore when they were redrawing political boundaries two years ago, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a lawsuit in federal court.

Last January, a panel of three judges ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered the state to design what became known as District 37A.

"The definite purpose of the district was to create an opportunity for the African-American community to send a representative to Annapolis," said Deborah A. Jeon, the Eastern Shore lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who represented the NAACP.

Honiss W. Cane Sr., Mr. Cane's father, ran as a Republican for a House of Delegates seat from Somerset County in 1948.

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