Sauerbrey case closes decision likely today

January 13, 1995|By Thomas W. Waldron and Michael James | Thomas W. Waldron and Michael James,Sun Staff Writers

After another frustrating day in court, Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey's pared-down legal challenge to the gubernatorial election limped to a close yesterday.

Her lawyers rested their case after once again losing a battle to introduce evidence -- this time, data they said would show that suspiciously large numbers of ballots were cast on some Baltimore voting machines.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. was expected to rule today on Mrs. Sauerbrey's request to overturn the election after hearing closing arguments.

Overall, it appeared that Mrs. Sauerbrey's attorneys had managed over four days to call into question only about 3,600 votes, a fraction of the 51,000 cited in her original lawsuit and the 15,000 promised by her attorneys as the trial began Monday.

More important, the number came nowhere close to her real target -- the 5,993 votes by which she lost the November election.

As the trial ended, Mrs. Sauerbrey sounded defiant. "This election was stolen and the ballots were stuffed," she declared. Even so, she seemed to acknowledge that she had not been able to prove that in court. "Things have not gone well," she said. "The judge obviously has denied a great deal of the critical evidence."

Attorneys for Gov.-elect Parris N. Glendening and state election officials barely bothered to put on a defense, offering a handful of documents and calling only one witness.

In a side note to the trial, the State Administrative Board of Election Laws announced yesterday that it wants an independent statewide investigation of election procedures, focusing at first on Baltimore, the target of most of Mrs. Sauerbrey's charges.

By yesterday, Mrs. Sauerbrey's case scarcely resembled the one laid out in her Dec. 27 lawsuit, which was filled with provocative charges of voter fraud in the three jurisdictions carried by Mr. Glendening -- Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Baltimore City.

The judge, for example, was never given evidence about people who had supposedly listed abandoned houses as their addresses, a charge included in the original lawsuit and trumpeted by Mrs. Sauerbrey's camp before trial.

Her allegations that 4,700 inmates allegedly had votes cast in their names shrunk to 10. And that number was never introduced as evidence because the judge said it was based on faulty information.

Her largest category of allegedly improper ballots -- more than 40,000 -- were those cast by voters whose names showed up on a postal service data base as filing change of address forms, but who had not changed their voter registrations.

Earlier in the week, Judge Thieme would not allow her lawyers to introduce those numbers because she had no witness to verify the postal list. Yesterday, the judge rejected a Sauerbrey plan to fly in a last-minute witness from California to do that, saying his deadlines in the case had been clear.

Her lawyers never even mentioned an accountant who the lawsuit suggested had found a 1,400-vote error in the Baltimore count.

The unprecedented court challenge to a Maryland gubernatorial election culminated an intensive two-month investigation by an army of Sauerbrey supporters.

In some cases, the tedious time spent sifting through and copying election records produced almost nothing tangible for the court fight.

The Sauerbrey troops spent countless hours, for example, scrutinizing the absentee ballot count in the week after the election, but no challenges were ever lodged.

Perhaps her most publicized claim -- that dead people had votes cast in their names -- fizzled under scrutiny. Her lawyers began the week talking of 89 such votes, but checking by reporters found no ballots were cast in many of those names.

Judge Thieme's last ruling yesterday was to put the whole matter of "dead" voter evidence on hold unless the case is too close to decide without considering it.

"Every time you scrutinized [her evidence] and put it to the test, it showed there was something wrong with it," said Bruce L. Marcus, Mr. Glendening's lead attorney. "There was not one thing put in evidence that held together."

Yesterday, Mrs. Sauerbrey's attorneys tried to introduce evidence about what she termed her "smoking gun and the bullet" -- vote counts recorded on machines in many Baltimore precincts that exceeded the number of voters recorded in binders kept at the polling place.

The alleged discrepancies ranged from a handful of votes to, in one case, 243.

At the urging of attorneys on the other side, Judge Thieme refused to hear the evidence because, he said, a computer tape produced from scanning the binder lists could not be considered a reliable tally of voters.

Deputy Attorney General Ralph S. Tyler III told Judge Thieme that the most reliable vote count is the one taken from the back of the machine at the end of the night, as witnessed by Republican and Democratic election judges.

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