Election integrity

Our view: Irregularities unlikely serious but deserve state prosecutor’s scrutiny

April 08, 2010

Maryland hasn't seen a lot of voter fraud prosecutions — the last was six years ago — but that doesn't mean that authorities should look the other way when potential irregularities are uncovered. Such is the case with the recent audit that found some possible examples of double-voting in 2008.

State elections officials say in that general election, there were 189 cases where votes were cast more than once under the same name. That audit result, first reported this week by the Towson Times, is not particularly alarming. There were 144 similar cases uncovered in 2006, a general election where far fewer ballots were cast.

It also amounts to an infinitesimal percentage of the 2.62 million votes recorded two years ago in Maryland. The majority are likely innocent mistakes — for example, someone who had recently moved voting at an old polling place and perhaps then casting a provisional ballot at a new address to make sure. Such votes were probably never counted anyway.

But officials concede there are also at least a handful of cases where signatures on ballots don't match. In such cases, it's possible someone has deliberately and fraudulently filled out a ballot in someone else's name. The possibility of such criminal behavior is not something to be taken lightly. Even if the incidents had no impact on the election's outcome, voters need to have confidence in the integrity of the process.

That's why it's troubling that State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh has declined to investigate any of the possible violations. He told officials from the state elections board that he doesn't have the resources to do that.

Mr. Rohrbaugh has complained about his $1.3 million budget before. While it's entirely possible his high-profile prosecution of Mayor Sheila Dixon has not endeared him to many Democrats in Annapolis, the belt-tightening he's been forced to do seems mild compared to the kinds of budget cutting other state agencies have been forced to endure during the economic recession.

Certainly, the prosecutor can make the case that he has bigger fish to fry with his staff of about a dozen people. In recent years, overheated allegations of rampant voter fraud have often been used for tactical advantage by those who benefit from lower turnout at the polls. If any fraud has taken place, it's clearly not a widespread problem.

But Mr. Rohrbaugh has refused even to send letters of warning to those whose names popped up in the audit. Such letters might at least advise people of the law and, in some less-than-subtle way, make sure they know of the prosecutor's interest. That would at least discourage deliberate double-voting (if, for instance, any is being contemplated this fall).

What does it take to write such a letter and mail 189 copies? A day's work and $90 in copying costs and postage? Surely, the state prosecutor's office is not so threadbare.

By not writing and mailing those letters, Mr. Rohrbaugh is sending a different kind of message — that he doesn't care about the integrity of Maryland's elections. That's not a responsible position for someone who under state law is charged with investigating election law violations.

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