By LETICIA LINN, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - Maryland Democratic leaders are considering introducing new legislation to handle "deceptive fraud" occurring close to or on Election Day in the next Maryland General Assembly, said David Paulson, communications director of the Maryland Democratic Party.
The new bill would target the kind of campaigning seen in this year's general election, when out-of-towners were bused in to distribute misleading fliers. The handout appeared to say that some prominent Democrats endorsed Republicans Gov. Robert Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who was running for Senate, along with Democratic candidates for county and legislative offices.
The consideration comes on the heels of a decision by the Department of Justice to deny a formal investigation into that incident.
Democratic Senate Campaign Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on Wednesday asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to justify that denial and to review the decision.
After the midterm election, Maryland Democratic leaders and their lawyers reviewed the facts to decide whether they would file a complaint with the state prosecutor, but they realized state law did not ban the events of Nov. 7, when people from another state gave voters misleading literature, said Paulson.
Still, Democratic leaders considered that federal laws were more extensive and might be applied to what happened.
"There is no state law, and as long as Chuck Schumer is doing that, we are happy with that and hoping that the Justice Department can change its mind," said Paulson. "In Maryland we might want to correct the laws that allow this to happen."
Paulson said a group of state legislators "concerned about expanding and protecting" voters' rights are researching current legislation in that field, to try to avoid a repeat. He declined to name the lawmakers.
"There is definitely the will," to produce something, Paulson said, adding "I would probably be as sure as I can about anything" that legislation would be forthcoming when General Assembly meets in January.
Schumer, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had requested the Department of Justice investigation into the Maryland fliers, but the office said on Nov. 16 that there was "an insufficient legal basis to initiate a formal investigation."
Schumer sent a letter to Gonzales saying he was "extremely disappointed in the decision and asked for a review "to ensure that all possible legal bases for an investigation were considered."
"Unfortunately, the mid-term elections held on Nov. 7, 2006, were tarnished by countless dirty tricks and ugly tactics," he wrote. "The ploy used in Maryland stands out for its sheer cynicism and brazenness.
"I am concerned that your response to the Ehrlich-Steele scheme in Maryland was not commensurate with the seriousness of this incident," Schumer said. "I am astonished by this outcome, and troubled by the prospect of this egregious conduct going unpunished."
Ehrlich was running for reelection and lost to Democrat Martin O'Malley, and Steele also lost the U.S. Senate seat to Democrat Rep. Ben Cardin.