Election official's charges on city purge fail scrutiny

April 03, 1995|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Baltimore election records and 1990 U.S. Census dataSun Staff Writer

A Republican member of the state election board claims that Baltimore officials targeted voters in majority-white precincts for removal from city rolls last year to hurt the GOP gubernatorial candidate's chances in the November election.

But an investigation by The Sun indicates that the allegations by board member Daniel J. Earnshaw are unfounded.

Mr. Earnshaw used selective samplings from city election board records to support his charges that disproportionately high numbers of voters were removed from the rolls in some precincts. Those areas, he maintains, contain white "crossover Democrats" who in the past have voted for Republican candidates.

Yet a comprehensive, precinct-by-precinct review of election records, coupled with an analysis of U.S. Census data, shows no pattern indicating that race or voting history was a factor in determining which ineligible voters were taken off the rolls.

In fact, the so-called "purge" of voters took place in more than half of the city's 408 precincts -- black and white -- as a result of changes in legislative district boundaries required by population shifts reflected in the 1990 Census.

And some of the highest numbers of voters removed from the rolls actually were from precincts where the population is overwhelmingly black.

Nevertheless, Mr. Earnshaw continues to make his allegations, which first were reported recently in the Washington Times and repeated on television news programs and radio talk shows. At a meeting of the state election board Wednesday, a discussion of his claims turned into a shouting match between him and Chairman James W. Johnson Jr.

"The purges that were done were targeted against the candidate that the people who did this wanted to lose," said Mr. Earnshaw. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what they were doing."

The legislative redistricting purge took place last year between April and August, during a time when the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial fields still were fluid. In fact, Parris N. Glendening did not emerge in polls as the Democratic front-runner until mid-June, and Helen Delich Bentley was considered the Republican favorite over Ellen R. Sauerbrey until the upset in the Sept. 13 primary.

Mr. Earnshaw, 34, a Harford County lawyer appointed to the state board in 1991 by former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, said his contentions about the purge were based on information provided to him by "a source" who is a "very, very high-ranking election official . . . from the other party." He declined to identify that person.

Gene M. Raynor, the state election administrator, rejected Mr. Earnshaw's contentions. He said the purging "can be logically and reasonably explained" by the required update of the city rolls related to the redrawing of legislative district lines, which were approved by the Maryland General Assembly.

In precincts where district designations change, election officials are required to send new voter cards to every registered voter. State law further requires that two attempts be made to deliver the cards by mail, but for any card returned twice by the post office as undeliverable, the voter's name is supposed to be removed from the rolls.

"The voters in those areas, under the law, must be notified of their new districts," said Mr. Raynor, a Democrat. "In so notifying these voters, there was a large return-mail delivered to the city election board, and on the basis of this return mail, the removal of these voters took place."

That process was not carried out in precincts where legislative districts and precinct boundaries remained unchanged.

Barbara E. Jackson, the Democratic city election administrator whose office removed the names from the rolls, dismissed Mr. Earnshaw's charges as "nonsense" and "absurd," echoing Mr. Raynor's explanation for the purge numbers being higher in some areas.

GOP official skeptical

The sole Republican member of the three-member Baltimore election board, Linda B. Pierson, said she did not find Mr. Earnshaw's claims credible.

"I don't believe him," Mrs. Pierson said.

She said that when first confronted with the charges by fellow Republicans, she "understood their initial concern." But after comparing new and old legislative district maps, "I could easily, easily explain all of those accusations that have been made."

Mr. Earnshaw dismisses those who doubt his conclusions.

"They're wrong," he said. "I have a right to my opinion. They're wrong, and they're going to be proven wrong."

Mr. Earnshaw's allegations are the latest in a series of claims that surfaced almost immediately after the gubernatorial election, which Mr. Glendening won over Mrs. Sauerbrey by just 5,993 votes of the more than 1.4 million cast statewide.

Mrs. Sauerbrey contested the election, alleging voter fraud. Her allegations were not proved in her failed legal challenge, which was decided in Anne Arundel Circuit Court in January.

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