New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer is pressing U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to justify his department's decision not to investigate whether Maryland Republicans purposely misled voters on Election Day by circulating voter guides listing top state GOP candidates as part of a "Democratic Sample Ballot."
"The right to vote is perhaps our most essential civil right, the wellspring of our democracy," Schumer said in a letter sent yesterday to Gonzales. "Unfortunately, the mid-term elections held on November 7, 2006, were tarnished by countless dirty tricks and ugly tactics. The ploy used in Maryland stands out for its sheer cynicism and brazenness."
Campaign committees for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Lt. Gov Michael S. Steele, then a U.S. Senate candidate, jointly sponsored the sample ballots. African-Americans were bused in from Pennsylvania to distribute those fliers and others at polling locations in Prince George's County and Baltimore. First lady Kendel Ehrlich reportedly welcomed the volunteers to Maryland.
Several politicians who were erroneously listed on the literature as endorsing Ehrlich and Steele, such as Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson and former senatorial candidate Kweisi Mfume, criticized the campaign tactic. Johnson, a Democrat, called it a "dirty trick."
In a Nov. 16 letter to Schumer, acting U.S. Assistant Attorney General James H. Clinger said that after reviewing the Maryland situation, his office had determined that there was "insufficient legal basis to initiate a formal investigation."
Schumer, in his response to Gonzales, asked that the department reconsider. "I am astonished by this outcome, and troubled by the prospect of this egregious conduct going unpunished," wrote Schumer, who is chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The senator asked that Gonzales' office provide a description of "the legal sources and analysis underlying the Department's conclusion that there is insufficient legal basis for a formal investigation" and answer "what indication, if any, did the Department find that this tactic was targeted at African American voters?"