On Tuesday, a Baltimore jury found a campaign manager for former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. guilty of fraud for authorizing misleading robophone calls to registered voters on Election Day in 2010. Paul Schurick, the campaign manager, authorized the calls that went out to an estimated 110,000 registered Democrats in Baltimore, the Baltimore Sun reports.
Prosecutors argued the robocalls were an attempt to suppress the black vote. The calls were made around 5 p.m. as the opponent, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, swept the polls.
The recorded voice of an unidentified female caller told Baltimore voters to stay home. "Relax, everything is fine," the robocall recording said. It was scripted to give voters the impression it was coming from Democrats, not Republicans.
"I’m calling to let everyone know that Gov. O’Malley and President Obama have been successful. Our goals have been met," the caller said in the message. "Relax, everything is fine, the only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight."
The jury found Schurick guilty on all four counts, including election fraud and failing to include an Ehrlich campaign authorization line on the calls.
"For black voters in Maryland, this was not the first run-in with Ehrlich’s racial manipulations on Election Day," wrote Sherrilyn A. Ifill, a professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law in Baltimore at The Root. She provides more specifics on Ehrlich’s past:
In 2006 the campaign of then-Gov. Ehrlich hired a busload of homeless men (mostly black) from Philadelphia to hand out Ehrlich flyers at voting precincts in Baltimore. The governor’s wife, Kendall, reportedly gave the "volunteers" — most of whom had no idea they’d walked into the middle of a racially charged election campaign — a pep talk when they arrived and served doughnuts.
Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt told the Sun that he believed Ehrlich’s conviction was the first under a 2006 addition to the Voter Rights Protection Act that made it illegal to use deceptive messaging to influence a voter’s decision to go to the polls.
Voting rights advocates say the decision sends a clear message to politicians attempting to suppress votes in 2012.
"Political operatives in Maryland take note," Susan Wichmann, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, told the Baltimore Sun. "Suppressing the vote is not just a ‘dirty trick,’ it is a crime and it will not be tolerated."
"I think the fact that there has actually been a case brought of this type is a victory," Gilda Daniels, a former Justice Department official told NPR earlier this week. She went on to say Schurick’s case sends a strong message that such tactics are increasingly frowned upon.