The former chair of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, a Republican, said recent statements by a top campaign aide to attorney general candidate Michael Peroutka (R) are worthy of an investigation by the state.
Jim Shalleck, an attorney and longtime GOP activist who ran unsuccessfully against Peroutka in this year’s attorney general primary, called the comments, by Peroutka campaign coordinator Macky Stafford, “disruptive” and potentially illegal.
In the video, which was taken at a Republican rally last weekend, Stafford encouraged supporters to arrive two hours before the polls close on Tuesday, Nov. 8, and form long lines.
“Vote on November 8th as late in the day as possible,” said Stafford. “If everyone could stand in long, long lines at 6 o’clock, that would actually help us.” The video was obtained by WBAL-TV (Channel 11). In the brief snippet the station aired, it couldn’t be determined why Stafford believed that long lines on Election Day would benefit Peroutka.
But Shalleck called it a clear attempt to “disrupt” and “cause havoc.” He said long lines could cut turnout because some voters would be disinclined to cast a ballot if they anticipated a long wait. “The last thing we need is these right-wing firebrands rallying people to screw up our process,” Shalleck said. “To me, it’s voter suppression and voter intimidation.”
In response to Shalleck’s call for an investigation, the state Board of Elections issued a statement warning against election interference.
“Anybody who intentionally interferes with someone else’s attempt to vote is committing a crime and is subject to prosecution,” the statement read. “We would also like to remind voters that early voting centers and Election Day polling places will be open continuously from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. Anyone in line at 8 p.m. will be allowed to vote.”
As to whether an investigation is underway, the statement said that neither state Board of Elections nor the Attorney General’s Office “confirm or deny the existence of investigations.”
Peroutka did not respond to a request for comment left on his cell phone. Stafford declined to respond to multiple emails. Republican Party Chair Dirk Haire did not respond to a request for comment sent via text.
In a statement, the Republican campaign pointed a reporter to unfounded claims raised by a math teacher in Ohio, Douglas Frank, who, according to Peroutka, believes that “the officially reported results for the 2020 General Election were indeed altered by means of an algorithm designed to manipulate election results to achieve a predetermined outcome.”
“Evidence collected has been and will be turned over to appropriate law enforcement entities,” the candidate pledged.
Peroutka then offered two “safeguards” to help ensure “the restoration and assurance of election integrity.” He encouraged people to vote on Nov. 8, “later in the day if possible,” and to “Use a paper ballot. (not touchscreen).”
Peroutka is a former member of the League of the South, which believes the U.S. should be governed by white Christians. He said he left the organization after one of the group’s leaders spoke out against interracial marriage, though the group’s views were well known before then.
A spokesman for Hogan, who appointed Shalleck to the Montgomery elections board, condemned Stafford’s remarks and he encouraged voters to cast ballots when and how they like.
“While this statement was deeply troubling, we are not aware of it being tied to any sophisticated or organized operation or effort,” said Michael Ricci. “Marylanders should vote in whatever form and at whatever time is convenient for them.”
Across the country, election workers and voters are growing increasingly concerned about the threats of voter intimidation at the polls, and experts are making sure they’re equipped with the tools and resources necessary to deal with the threats.
On Monday, a federal judge in Arizona issued a temporary restraining order preventing Clean Elections USA, a QAnon-linked group, from continuing its poll monitoring activities.
Last week, Maryland gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox (R) put out a call for volunteers to “monitor” the state’s elections drop boxes. “It’s no secret that drop boxes are regularly misused and stuffed with nefarious ballots,” he wrote, without offering evidence. “We have to stay alert for the sake of preserving clean elections and keeping individuals accountable.”
Federal law includes a number of protections against intimidation.
The Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1957 both prohibit the actual or threatened intimidation, threats, or coercion of voters, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Additionally, the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 prevents conspiracies that use intimidation to prevent voters from casting ballots in federal elections, and the National Voter Registration Act prohibits intimidation of people registering to vote.
These laws protect voters not only from physical harassment and intimidation but also from being monitored at polling places. In addition to federal law, state laws and criminal codes provide additional protections.
University of New Haven elections expert Robert Sanders, who has ties to Prince George’s County, said public comments about voting lines carry potential legal peril.
“One of the things that the Justice Department has said in interpreting this stuff is that disrupting voting lines or blocking the entrance to a polling place are examples of voter intimidation,” he said. “So, on its face, without more, I think this is voter intimidation within the four corners of the statutes.”
Shalleck knows that some people will dismiss his criticism of Peroutka’s campaign as sour grapes, but he is unmoved.
“I don’t care what they say,” he said. “What they’re doing is disrupting the election process.”
Shalleck said he will not be voting for Peroutka.
States Newsroom reporter Kira Lerner contributed to this report.