That Contentious Election Again

March 20, 1995

Someone, it seems, has finally come up with some evidence about last year's state election that merits serious consideration.

Just what that evidence might be, or what aspect of the wildly varied complaints about the gubernatorial election it deals with, remains publicly unknown. But federal authorities think they have been presented with information that deserves at least preliminary investigation. It's their job to follow up such leads, and the public's role is to await more information.

There's been no shortage of accusation and recrimination about the election for governor, which was settled by a slender 6,000 votes. The problem has been there was little substance unearthed to support the charges of election fraud despite a huge effort by Ellen Sauerbrey, her devoted followers and some Republican professional vote challengers. Her court suit fell flat for lack of evidence, which hasn't stopped some of her most zealous supporters from insisting Democratic workers had stolen the election for Gov. Parris Glendening.

Certainly there has been evidence of unforgiveably sloppy procedures, particularly in Baltimore City. Most disquieting was the discovery -- by this newspaper's reporters, not by Mrs. Sauerbrey's sleuths -- that about a dozen keys to city voting machines were not turned in as they should have been on election night, leaving some ballot records vulnerable to tampering. Other flaws in the election process, such as lack of enough Republican judges at the polls, varying procedures for handling absentee votes and the purging of voter registration lists, are civil matters that must be dealt with by the legislature and election officials.

So far none of this adds up to a federal criminal violation. It's a little perplexing that substantive information would surface now, after all the hullabaloo raised by the Sauerbrey forces for two months. But federal prosecutors and the FBI regard the information as enough for them to launch a preliminary inquiry, which is a long way from a full-fledged investigation taking evidence before a grand jury.

If there is evidence of criminal activity in last November's elections, it must be pursued vigorously. Nothing is more sacred in representative government than the sanctity of the election process.

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