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Election 2020 Government & Politics

Glendening, Sauerbrey Reflect on the Ballot Impasse — And Their Own

President George H.W. Bush was the featured speaker at a fundraiser for Maryland GOP gubernatorial contender Ellen R. Sauerbrey in 1997. Photo courtesy of Ellen Sauerbrey.

For Ellen R. Sauerbrey, President Trump’s legal fight to remain president evokes vivid memories of her own legal challenge of the 1994 Maryland gubernatorial election.

Not since the election of Spiro Agnew back in 1966 had Republicans in Maryland been so optimistic. Sauerbrey, who was Maryland House minority leader, waged an aggressive campaign against heavily favored Parris N. Glendening (D), the three-term Prince George’s County Executive. When all the votes were counted, Glendening narrowly won by 5,993 votes.

But shortly after, Sauerbrey campaign operatives were crying foul. Her poll watchers claimed voter irregularities in Baltimore City, Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, where Glendening won handily.

Sauerbrey recalled this week her attorney and volunteers had uncovered evidence in 1994 of thousands of votes cast by people listed as deceased or in prison. Her campaign also alleged irregularities with voting machines in Baltimore City.

“So all those reasons coming together gave us great reason to think that something was funny,” Sauerbrey said.

Glendening, who served two terms as governor and easily defeated Sauerbrey in a rematch four years later, said “I was not surprised at all” by his opponent’s legal challenge in 1994. “It was a hard-fought and bitter campaign.” But Glendening, now 78, says he never worried about the ultimate outcome and never doubted the integrity of the electoral process.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr., who presided over the appeal, candidly admitted he had voted for Sauerbrey. But Thieme dismissed her appeal, concluding there was not sufficient evidence of voter fraud to overturn the election.

Still, Sauerbrey, who is now 83, says she has no regrets about challenging the election outcome in 1994.

“I got pretty well blistered by the media as a sore loser and a whiner. But I think when you have a pretty good indication that the election is rigged, you should fight,” Sauerbrey said. She added, “I hope if the Trump campaign really believes there are enough discrepancies, I hope they stick it out.”

Reflecting on the 1994 election challenge, Glendening says, “I never had the feeling that the [Sauerbrey] campaign’s lawsuit “was a systematic attack of the entire democratic system.”

But that’s how the former governor labels Trump’s declaration, “If you count all the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, you’re trying to steal an election, you’re trying to rig an election.”

The Trump challenge “appears to be deliberately designed to not only ensure his re-election but also to destroy the type of democratic election system we have,” said Glendening. “He’s been doing this for six months.”

He says he is also troubled by lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign to stop the voting in some states while attempting to ensure all votes are counted in other states.

“You can’t manipulate the vote count on how you think you’re going to do in that state.”

Glendening says after the dust has settled on this election and appeals, which could potentially be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, “There will be lingering damage to our entire constitutional democratic system and will take years if not decades to fully overcome.”

Sauerbrey, meanwhile, says she now worries about the nationwide vote-by-mail system and what she calls the lack of transparency in ballot counting.

The former state delegate, who represented Baltimore County, says years ago “There would be a Republican and Democrat sitting there watching as the (absentee) ballots were opened making sure they were properly recorded.” But today, with millions of mail-in ballots being counted in each state, Sauerbrey wonders how that can be done accurately in a timely manner (in Maryland, state elections officials will continue to count mail-in ballots, with observers from both political parties, that are received through Nov. 13, assuming they are postmarked on or before Election Day). She is also calling for a uniform deadline in every state in which all ballots must be counted and certified.

“Are we looking now at elections that aren’t settled for weeks after an election?” she asks. “Isn’t there a need for transparency when the ballots are opened that both parties are able to feel comfortable that the ballot was legitimately cast and legitimately recorded?”

John Rydell has covered state politics for more than 30 years with WBFF-TV and Maryland Public Television. He can be reached at [email protected]