Anti-fraud group targets Md. election National organization to monitor 'integrity' of race for governor

Effort may become prototype

Officials of project deny that they back conservative agenda

July 01, 1998|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

A national group that fights election fraud announced plans yesterday to use 5,000 volunteers to monitor polling places in Maryland's coming election for governor -- an effort to prevent the kind of fraud accusations that marred the 1994 vote.

The Voting Integrity Project, based in Arlington, Va., has made news in San Francisco, Louisiana and Virginia since its creation in 1996. The group calls itself nonpartisan, but some Democrats have accused it of having a conservative agenda.

Its Maryland program will be headed by Drake Ferguson, who previously chaired Voters Organized Toward Election Reform, a group formed in response to Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey's narrow loss to Democrat Parris N. Glendening in the 1994 governor's race.

The Voting Integrity Project's effort here would be the first time the group has tried to monitor an election, as opposed to investigating fraud claims afterward. The group hopes to use the program as a prototype for monitoring elections in other states.

Sauerbrey's claims of election fraud in her narrow loss to Glendening prompted interest from project officials, said president and founder Deborah Phillips.

"This is a good-government program," Phillips said. "Whether you believe election fraud occurred in 1994 or whether you believe one party was unfairly accused of election fraud, you should be supporting this."

Neither Sauerbrey's campaign nor Glendening's showed much enthusiasm for the effort.

"We don't know anything about this," said Sauerbrey spokeswoman Carol Hirschburg.

Glendening spokesman Len Foxwell said, "We believe there are strong and responsible laws on the books to ensure the integrity of the election process."

The Voting Integrity Project hopes to recruit 5,000 volunteers, enough to post one observer inside and one outside every polling place in Baltimore, Baltimore County, Montgomery County, Prince George's County and perhaps Anne Arundel County, Phillips said.

Computer experts also would inspect electronic vote tallying, and charges of fraud would be investigated by retired FBI agents, she said. The group has budgeted $100,000 for the monitoring project. The goal is to prevent fraud, or at least spot it in time to challenge tainted elections. Phillips said fraud victims rarely have time to gather evidence to challenge election results in court.

The group says it has found evidence of fraud in a vote supporting a new football stadium in San Francisco favored by Democratic Mayor Willie Brown, and in the election of a Democratic U.S. senator from Louisiana. In Loudon County, Va., the group criticized county officials for deciding to build a government center voters had rejected.

Democrats have accused the Voting Integrity Project of secretly supporting Republicans. The group's chairwoman, Helen Blackwell, is a member of the Eagle Forum, a conservative group led by Phyllis Schlafly. But Phillips said the group has many Democratic members and helped uncover a computer glitch that hurt a Democratic candidate for the New Hampshire senate. The group has no mission other than to ensure fair elections and encourage voter confidence, she said.

Pub Date: 7/01/98

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