Sample ballot misled voters, complaint alleges Close GOP races affected, former candidate claims

October 30, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

A sample ballot distributed by a group of county Republican candidates before the Sept. 15 primary election confused voters and affected the outcomes of two key races, a former candidate for county commissioner alleges in a complaint filed with the state prosecutor's office.

George W. Murphy III, who finished last in a field of 14 candidates in the Republican primary, said the ballots changed the outcomes of the tight races for county commissioner and state delegate. Murphy has requested a formal investigation.

At issue are 13,000 pink sample ballots that highlighted in bold-face type the names of Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey, Republican comptroller candidate Michael Steele and eight other local Republican candidates.

In small print at the bottom of the campaign flier is a list of campaigns that authorized the sample ballot. All the highlighted candidates are listed, including Sauerbrey and Steele.

In his complaint to the state prosecutor's office, Murphy alleges that Sauerbrey's authority line was used without permission and left voters with the false impression that Sauerbrey endorsed the other highlighted candidates: House of Delegates hopefuls Carmen Amedori and Joseph M. Getty; county commissioner candidates James E. Harris Sr. and Harvey I. Tegeler Jr.; sheriff candidate Kenneth L. Tregoning; register of wills candidate Donald B. Sealing II; judge of Orphans' Court hopeful Herbert J. Reisig; and U.S. Senate candidate from New Windsor Ken Wayman.

Of those, half won the party's nomination to appear on the November ballot: Amedori, Getty, Tregoning and Reisig.

Murphy contends that the sample ballots led to the defeat of commissioner candidate Melvin Mills and state delegate hopeful W. David Blair, both in close races. Mills finished fourth in the primary, only 14 votes behind incumbent Donald I. Dell. Blair lost by more than 100 votes to Amedori.

"It definitely made the difference. They didn't lose an election. It was stolen," Murphy said.

The Sauerbrey campaign gave the group permission to highlight Sauerbrey's name on the ballot, said Jim Dornan, Sauerbrey's press secretary. But it is unclear who gave the permission and whether endorsements were discussed.

"We are still trying to piece together how it was put together and who gave permission. Unless it is the most extreme circumstances, Ellen does not get involved in Republican primaries," Dornan said.

Koreen Hughes, a Republican Party member from Eldersburg who organized the sample ballot flier, said she received permission to print Sauerbrey's name and the authorization line. But she never asked the campaign for Sauerbrey's endorsement.

"We didn't request it because we knew we wouldn't get it. That's not what she was doing," she said.

If the candidates had received Sauerbrey's endorsement, Hughes said, she would have made it very clear in the political flier.

State election law requires that all political advertisements include the name of the campaign that authorized the material.

"All the authority line means is that the campaign was responsible for the campaign material," said Kathleen Hoke Dachille, assistant attorney general counsel of election law.

It does not necessarily mean that the authorizing campaign endorses the other candidates on the ballot, she said.

But she added that she understands how some voters could draw that conclusion.

Whether the sample ballots were legal or not, Murphy argued that that ambiguity means that the state election laws need to be reviewed.

"This is where the gray areas of the law are. It was an abuse of the election process and defrauded the voters."

The matter is in the hands of the state prosecutor's office, which is deciding whether the case merits an investigation.

"We are going to conduct a preliminary inquiry to see if an investigation is warranted," said James Cabezas, chief investigator for the state prosecutor.

Melvin Mills is not sure what impact the pink ballots had on his 14-vote loss to Dell.

"It was a clever way of promoting candidates who thought and felt alike," he said, adding, "I lost and I'm accepting the fact that I lost."

Pub Date: 10/30/98

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