An Election Day robocall sent to Democratic voters in the state of Maryland telling them to “relax” and that the election was over – an apparent attempt to get them to stay home and not vote – has been traced back to Universal Elections, a company hired by Republican Robert Ehrlich’s gubernatorial campaign.

Maryland’s State’s Attorney Douglas Gansler investigated the calls immediately, announcing Wednesday, according to a report from the Maryland Daily Record, that he did not believe Robert Ehrlich or his staff were aware of the calls. But his investigation resulted in the filing of a federal complaint naming consultant Julius Henson, his company Universal Elections and an employee of the company, Rhonda Russell.

Henson took responsibility for the calls. “Universal Elections made the call and it was my decision to make the call,” Henson said. “It’s really nonsensical that is coming from the people who won by 14 points and were leading by 14 points for more than a week.”

The call was placed through the Pennsylvania-based company, robodial.org. That company said the call was placed through an account maintained by Rhonda Russell, an employee for Universal Elections.

Word of the call spread as the polls closed on election night, outraging many of the state’s prominent Democrats, who saw it as an attempt to curtail late Democratic support and give Republicans an edge. Among those who denounced the call was Prince George’s County, Md. Executive-elect Rushern Baker (D).

“I am shocked by the news of a robocall targeting residents of Prince George’s County intended to dissuade voting earlier this evening,” Baker said in an election night statement. “This isn’t dirty politics, it’s un-American. I hope those behind this call are investigated and exposed for their attempt to suppress everyone’s right to cast a ballot.”

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was quick to denounce the calls in a statement released early Tuesday evening. “I was deeply troubled to hear this misleading robo call targeting Baltimore City residents urging them to relax and stay home as if the election was over and the polls have been closed,” Rawlings-Blake said. “Sadly, this kind of gutter politics that we have come to expect from Bob Ehrlich and the Republican Party.”

Henson said that the call did not explicitly urge Democrats who hadn’t voted yet to stay home.

“The call was counterintuitive,” he said. “We felt that the people who’d already gone and voted were voting for the opposition and the people who had not voted, and because they hadn’t voted, were mostly likely not going to vote for the incumbent.

We were trying to get them to go to the polls and vote.”

“It never said ‘don’t vote’ or anything like that,” Henson continued. “It was an attempt to get to voters who were not going to vote and it was a lot of them because they didn’t like their choice – the incumbent.”

Andy Barth, spokesman for the Ehrlich campaign, did not comment on the issue. Henson did not comment regarding his connection to the Ehrlich campaign.

“It is deeply troubling that an operative working for Bob Ehrlich’s campaign was responsible for this shameful and illegal attempt to deceive Maryland voters,” Maryland Democratic Party Chair Susan Turnbull said in a statement. “We hope the Ehrlich campaign will fully disclose their role in this unfortunate episode and cooperate fully with any ongoing investigations in the matter. The right to vote is precious in a democracy and anyone who attempts to deny that right to citizens should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

According to the Maryland Daily Record, 112,000 calls were made on election day, each failing to give a phone number or provide a statement of responsibility. This made each call unlawful and Henson could be fined $500 for each violation.

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO