Prosecutor's office hasn't pursued cases of dual voting

Nearly 200 people thought to have voted twice in 2008

April 09, 2010|By Bryan P. Sears | Patuxent Publishing

Nearly 200 voters in Maryland voted twice in the 2008 election - but none of the incidents was investigated or prosecuted because of budget and staffing restrictions in the Office of the State Prosecutor.

More than a third of the voters who are suspected of intentionally voting twice came from Baltimore and Baltimore County, according to state Board of Elections documents obtained by Patuxent Publishing Co.

Kevin Zeese, executive director of the Baltimore watchdog group True Vote MD, said the absence of investigation and prosecution is troubling, even if the number of suspected double-votes is relatively small.

"If it's a handful of people doing it on their own, that's one thing," Zeese said. "If it's organized, that's another."

Nikki Trella, election reform director for the Maryland Board of Elections, said voters who cast ballots more than once were discovered in March 2009 during an audit of the 2008 presidential vote.

That list of hundreds of names was ultimately reduced to 189 people across the state who Trella said might have intentionally voted more than once.

An estimated 2.62 million Marylanders voted in the 2008 presidential election, according to the state elections board Web site. That means the number of those who voted twice is less than 1/100th of 1 percent of votes cast.

Still, Trella said, elections officials met last fall with Robert A. Rohrbaugh and others from the state prosecutor's office.

During that meeting, Rohrbaugh told elections officials they don't have the resources to pursue these cases, Trella said.

Rohrbaugh declined to comment. In February, though, he sent a letter to the state Senate regarding the proposed budget for the coming year. In that letter, Rohrbaugh said his office was unable to investigate and prosecute elections violations over the past year because of staffing and budget limitations. The letter did not specify the cases his office declined.

Rohrbaugh's office has a budget of about $1.3 million and a staff of about a dozen, including Rohrbaugh and two other lawyers who prosecute cases.

"Our position is that we have the documents in our possession that suggest someone voted more than once - and it is our duty to turn it over to the state prosecutor," Trella said.

"We believe this is an important analysis," said Trella, who added that such reviews go "a long way in demonstrating to the public that we take running honest, fair elections very seriously."

"I respect that the state prosecutor has resource problems," Trella said. "We have a resource problem, too."

Added Zeese: "When the state prosecutor can't investigate this kind of thing it's a very, very serious problem."

The number of voters suspected of voting twice increased by more than 30 percent over the number during the 2006 elections, according to figures released by Trella. There was no presidential vote that year.

Trella declined to release the original audit, or the list of names turned over to the state prosecutor's office for further investigation and possible prosecution.

Officials counted at least 53 voters suspected of voting twice in Baltimore, about two dozen in Baltimore County and seven in Howard County.

But those figures do not include voters who voted in one of those jurisdictions and then voted again in another county.

In Baltimore County, Trella said, there were a total of 14 cases, but a list obtained by Patuxent Publishing Co. from the state showed nearly an equal number of cases involved people who voted in multiple jurisdictions.

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