Election complaint over fliers dismissed Commissioner candidate said sample ballots unfair

November 10, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

The state prosecutor's office has dismissed a complaint by a former county commissioner candidate alleging election fraud in September's Republican primary.

At issue were 13,000 pink sample ballots, distributed by a group of local Republicans, that highlighted in bold-face type the names of GOP gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey, comptroller candidate Michael Steele and eight local Republican candidates.

In a complaint filed Oct. 28, George W. Murphy III, who finished last in a field of 14 candidates in the Republican primary, said that the GOP group had not received permission to use Sauerbrey's authority line on the flier. The flier, he alleged, gave voters the false impression that Sauerbrey was endorsing the eight local candidates.

But the state prosecutor's office, which investigates election fraud complaints, found no intent to defraud or misrepresent voters on the part of the GOP group that distributed the fliers. The state prosecutor will not investigate the case further, said Steven Halpert, a spokesman for the state prosecutor.

Halpert declined to comment on the decision.

Koreen Hughes, a Republican Party member from Eldersburg who organized the sample ballot flier, said she was relieved by the decision.

"I feel vindicated," she said. "I knew in time it would be sorted. It wasn't pleasant to go through with."

Hughes maintained that she received permission from the Sauerbrey campaign to print the flier with the authority lines. But she never asked the campaign for Sauerbrey's endorsement.

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

The investigation by the state prosecutor's office concluded that Hughes had "acted in good faith" to obtain approval from Sauerbrey's and Steele's campaigns.

The pink sample ballot included the names of eight local candidates in bold-face type: 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 Kenneth L. Wayman II.

Of those, half won the party's nomination to appear on the No- vember ballot: Amedori, Getty, Tregoning and Reisig.

Murphy contended 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, 14 votes behind incumbent Donald I. Dell. Blair lost by more than 100 votes to Amedori.

"I'm glad the Maryland office of state prosecutor was so quick and that no one has to go to jail," Murphy said. "I have no personal interest in jailing or fining my fellow Republicans."

Murphy said he hopes that, if nothing else, the complaint increased voters' and candidates' awareness of authority lines.

"It raises everybody's awareness of what the rules really are. It will be a sure lesson that the authority line does mean something. If it happens again, people will know what the rules are," he said.

Hughes said it's a lesson she has learned.

"From now on we are going to be smarter," Hughes said. "Next time we get something approved, we'll get written permission."

Pub Date: 11/10/98

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