Two political strategists could face up to five years in jail and 50 million dollars in fines for telling Maryland voters to “relax.” Julius Henson and Paul Schurick worked on Republican Robert L. Ehrlich’s failed 2010 bid for governor, Schurick as Ehrlich’s campaign manager and Henson as a political consultant. They have been charged with conspiracy to violate Maryland election laws, among other charges, for ordering deceptive robocalls to be sent to over 112,000 households on election day, targeting African-American Democrat populations with an automated message encouraging voters to “relax” because Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley had already won election. But of course these calls were made while the polls were still open.
Both Henson and Schurick claim they have violated no laws. Henson freely admits ordering the calls, but claims that they were not intended to suppress Democratic voters, but rather to encourage Ehrlich’s supporters to get out to the polls. Henson called the strategy “counterintuitive.” That’s certainly one word for it. It’s especially counterintuitive when you consider that, according to court papers, the phone numbers were culled from call lists for two recent Democratic campaigns Henson’s firms had worked for, and were unlikely to be the numbers of Ehrlich supporters. On top of that, according to the state prosecutor, an Ehrlich campaign document called “The Schurick Doctrine” declares its aim to be the promotion of “confusion, emotionalism, and frustration among African-American Democrats.”
With a 2005 Maryland law expressly making it illegal to “willfully and knowingly influence or attempt to influence a voter’s decision whether to go to the polls to cast a vote through the use of force, fraud, threat, menace, intimidation, bribery, reward, or offer of reward,” these charges could carry up to a five-year sentence. Henson and an associate are also facing a civil suit related to the calls. If found in violation, they could be fined 500 dollars per call, and remember: there were over 112,000 calls.