(BALTIMORE – September 13, 2016) – On the morning of April 26, 2016, several hundred Baltimoreans lined up at the West Baltimore office of mayoral candidate Catherine Pugh. They told the media that they were promised a job. They reported that in order to get this $12/hour job, they had to go to an orientation. At that orientation (held during Early Voting, April 14-21, 2016), they were given a “chicken box” and other junk food treats; they were also put on a bus and taken to Early Voting in order to vote. It has been stated that these (presumably) Baltimore City residents were taken to Early Voting because they would not be able to vote on Election Day while they were working. Upon learning that there was no job for them with the Pugh campaign on Election Day, a riot erupted.
Sure, this was months ago. However, such ill-gotten-games have left a terrible taste in the mouths of over half the city.
This column is focused on the two front-runners. Pugh won 13,047 votes during Early Voting, some 4,000 votes more than former Mayor Sheila Dixon’s 9,445. Pugh had never won citywide. Dixon always won citywide.
On Election Day and in a very strange twist of events, Pugh won 33,055 votes to Dixon’s 34,070.
As a Dixon supporter, I find the whole thing a huge mess.
Oh! I have failed to mention that there were over 1,800 voting irregularities – so many that our citizens group, Voters Organized for the Integrity of City Elections (VOICE), led the way to raising questions about how the votes were gathered on Election Day. Then, something happened that most have never seen: the de-certification of Baltimore Board of Elections’ numbers by the State Board of Elections.
There were a plethora of issues, including poorly trained election judges, people voting using the wrong ballots, and people in the county voting in the city on a mayoral race.
Then, there is the chain-of-custody issue. Did we not hear the Baltimore Board of Elections chief Armstead Jones state that he did not have keys to all of the precincts where votes were stored from Early Voting? Where are missing thumb drives? And where were the late thumb drives? Who had them?
Any way you shape it, the Baltimore Primary has more questions than answers, and I, for one, think the end result stinks something bad.
What’s also sad is how not one elected official has said much of anything about it. Congressman Elijah Cummings has recently made a statement about the DOJ Report, but he has said nothing about the legality of this Baltimore primary. Let me not that considering that he is a Pugh supporter, I’m not surprised one bit.
I just wonder if Sheila Dixon or Larry Hogan had conned people into voting for them with the promise of a job, I bet that Channel 11, Channel 13 and the Baltimore Sun would have broken their necks getting the story out to the masses.
When it comes to the Election Day Riot outside of Pugh’s office – on the day before the one-year anniversary of the death of Freddie Gray, this city – including Jayne Miller and all of the other award winning journalists – was quieter than a church mouse urinating on cotton.
To her credit, Miller – the lead investigative reporter at WBAL TV 11 – did tweet that there was something odd – that typically the winning of Early Voting wins the Election Day count, also.
This, again, leads one to have to question the validity of the Early Voting results – especially in a race with a difference of approximately 2,400 votes. How can we be sure that they are legitimate?
In a city with over a half-million people, the race boiled down to a mere 2,400 votes. So, when I think of the 2,000 or so people who rioted in Walbrook Junction on Election Day – when I think of the lack of chain-of-custody accountability – when I think of the fact that neither the City or the State Board of Elections can account for every single vote in a state dominated by the very people – black and white – who supported Pugh – when I think of the $100,000 loan to Pugh from former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith – and the fact that Pugh was a million dollars in debt after the election compared to a $5,000 debt owed by Dixon (Dixon did a tremendous job in that respect), this whole entire Baltimore City Primary Election seems like utter bull feces. There is no wonder why there was a riot at Pugh’s office; for me, this type of political game-playing (which goes to the highest levels of the Maryland Democratic Party) explains exactly why locals rioted after the untimely death of Freddie Gray.
People have seen these games before and are almost accustomed to getting shorts from local government. And it is downright shameful. The black elected officials who we assumed had our backs have proven to be middle-men for government sanctioned re-gentrification, at best. I mean, honestly: Where is the investigation?
For 22 years now, I have been a voting advocate. What do I tell people now? Now, they can really say with emphasis: My vote doesn’t matter. If it did count, then those in charge would act accordingly and respect it. A major political heist has occurred in broad daylight right before our lying eyes and nobody is the wiser.
All kinds of rules were broken in the primary, including political ads not being reported in a timely fashion. Some ads were actually reported by local cable stations on Election Day, itself; that is a violation deserving of fines. Yet, there is no recourse whatsoever.
So, I went looking for some answers. One person I talked to was DC-based political pundit Marcus Murchison. Having been engaged in political affairs over the past two decades, I posed a question to him: Can you procure a vote? Put differently, can you buy a vote with money, a promise of a $12/hour job, or a chicken box?
“No!”, he said. “That is voter fraud and it is interfering with the people’s right to vote. Trying to coerce a vote … it is illegal. You cannot do that and there are penalties.”
Murchison and I have worked together for years, including work on the campaign of late Morehouse brother Terry Hairston in Southeast DC.
I asked Delegate Cheryl Glenn this same question. Glenn is chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland and has been engaged in politics most of her life, in one way or another.
“We couldn’t even offer a hot dog,” she said – referring to her work in the 80s with the City Union of Baltimore. It represented some 8,000 city employees. “We were advised that we could not give anybody anything in exchange for their vote. You cannot promise anything.” Her point is that it is better to avoid any and all type actions so that they can never be confused with influencing a vote.
“That’s supposed to be a violation of the Election Rules,” said Glenn.
Former Attorney General Doug Gansler told Bmorenews.com, “It is a gray area.” He did say, however, “[y]ou cannot promise a job.”
This bungled/de-certified/re-certified Baltimore City Primary of 2016 has brought many election questions to the surface: the concept of walk-around money, the issue of quid pro quo, the issue of gifts for a vote, chain-of-custody issues – to name a few.
Gansler would not go all in, but did say that any actions that influence a vote, beyond what is acceptable, is “unethical at some level” although it probably would not get a person in jail.
East Balimore’s Kevin Parson was queried, also. Involved in elections since he was 8 years old, the 53-year-old politico said, “It is my understanding that the Baltimore Board of Elections prohibits such behavior.” He said that candidates should avoid anything that even remotely gives the impression of influencing an election.
Charles Robinson, a 40-year veteran journalist, has been covering elections since 1974 when he graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University.
I asked Robinson if a vote can be procured. He replied, “Procuring a vote is illegal.” He added, “I can’t pay you to get your vote. They can urge you to vote, but they cannot have quid pro quo.”
He referenced the 1920s when people were told if they voted, they could drink for free. He noted Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia. He said that while it is not illegal to pay campaign workers, one cannot pay a person to vote.
And that’s exactly where the Pugh campaign is: they can argue that these people were employees. However, on Election Day, these same people who were engaged, given a chicken box, and promised a $12/hour job, taken to Early Voting (because remember – they cannot vote on Election Day if they are on the clock) – many of these people were dismissed. Many did not get paid. Pugh told the television stations that she would pay all of the people the $100 as promised; we later learned that only some were paid, and that they were paid $50 and not $100.
This is all public. It was on television. It is online. And yet, not one elected official, not the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or anybody else has said a word. Folks had a lot to say about the recently released DOJ Report that only stated the obvious. However, as it relates to this bungled primary: not a word.
And that, my friends, is how the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore does it. So, there is no need to call Baltimoreans “thugs”. Frankly, the citizens have nothing on the elected officials; there is far too much blood on their hands. Further, how the State Board of Elections can certify an election where there is not 100% accountability is simply beyond me; I am reminded of Linda Lamone’s reply when asked about voters who could not be verified: “We don’t know what happened.”