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Crime & Justiceby Fern Shen12:08 pmJun 17, 20110

Robocall case: rare glimpse at cynical attitudes toward black voters

Above: Julius Henson (left), indicted yesterday for allegedly ordering the robocalls, worked for Republican candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (right). Ehrlich has not been charged with any crime.

The indictment yesterday of two political operatives for former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. – one of them his de facto campaign manager – spelled out in amazingly specific terms an alleged Election Night 2010 strategy of  “voter suppression” aimed by agents of the Republican candidate at “African American Democrats” in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City.

The language came in a document titled “The Schurick Doctrine,” referenced in the 14-page indictment of Ehrlich political consultant Julius Henson and Ehrlich campaign director Paul E. Schurick, who was communications director when Ehrlich was governor from 2003 to 2007.

Henson, 62, and Schurick, 54, each face three counts of conspiracy to violate Maryland election laws, one count of attempting to influence a voter’s decision and one count of failing to provide an authority line on campaign material. Schurick also is charged with one count of obstruction of justice.

Paul E. Schurick, communications director for Gov. Ehrlich and campaign director for candidate Ehrlich, has been charged with conspiracy to violate election laws and obstruction of justice.

Paul E. Schurick, communications director for Gov. Ehrlich and campaign director for candidate Ehrlich, has been charged with conspiracy to violate election laws and obstruction of justice.

According to a quote from “The Schurick Doctrine” included in the indictment, the robocalls were “designed to promote confusion, emotionalism, and frustration among African-American Democrats.”

Another quote: “The first and foremost desired outcome [of the strategy] is voter suppression,” the indictment says.

Ehrlich, who lost to Gov. Martin O’Malley by 14 percentage points, was not charged with any crime. Attorneys for Henson and Schurick have both said that their clients did not violate the law. Arraignment is set for July 18 in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

Relax. Everything’s Fine!”

Election Night robocalls received by voters in Prince George’s County and Baltimore are at the center of the indictment that was handed up by a city grand jury, following an eight-month investigation by the Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor.

The calls came in the early evening. This is what people heard, according to the indictment:

“Hello. I’m calling to let everyone know that Governor O’Malley and President Obama have been successful. Our goals have been met. The polls were correct, and we took it back. We’re okay. Relax. Everything’s fine. The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight. Congratulations, and thank you.”

There was no mention made of who was making the call, no “authority line” included at the end. The polls were still open when the calls went out.

People who received the call (I live in Baltimore and received one) immediately lit up the local Twitter-sphere. The possibility that they were part of a dirty tricks campaign was reported that evening by The Baltimore Sun and WBAL-TV.

(Exactly which organization was first seems to be a matter of dispute between the Sun’s Justin Fenton and WBAL’s lead “I-Team” reporter Jayne Miller. We’re not getting in the middle of that one.)

The Sun traced the calls to Pennsylvania-based Robodial.com, which said Henson’s company paid for them. Asked their purpose, Henson said the calls were meant to motivate Ehrlich supporters to go to the polls. Asked whether Ehrlich approved them, Henson was vague.

If convicted, Henson and Schurick could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison for each election law and voter influence count. The maximum term for the authority line violations is one year.

The “Don’t Vote” Strategy

Here are some additional details of the allegations, gleaned from the indictment.

• As for the number of calls that went went out: In Baltimore, 47,984 calls were attempted and 14,556 were answered and full message played. In Prince George’s county, 64,560 calls were attempted and 15,766 were answered and the full message played.

• The call lists used in the campaign originated from Henson’s work for Democrats. His company developed call lists for two candidates running in the September Democratic primary, Deborah Claridy, running for sheriff in Baltimore and Marilyn Bland, running for Clerk of the Circuit Court in Prince George’s County.

• Their approach was the “Don’t Vote” part of their three-pronged strategy.

Henson was to be paid $16,000 per month for the contract that began June 1 and ended November 2, plus a $30,000 bonus if Ehrlich won.

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