False campaign material leads to charges
A 57-year-old Prince George's County man is accused of creating an official-looking but false sample ballot that incorrectly linked top Democrats to underdog candidates,distributed during the early voting period that preceded the Sept. 14 primaries.
Jerry Mathis, 57, faces three counts of distributing campaign material without proper authority line in violation of Maryland’s election law. Each charge, filed Friday by Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $25,000 fine.
Mathis is the lone person charged with election law violations this year, Gansler's spokeswoman said.
Prosecutors allege that Mathis used the authority line "Citizens for Change,Charles S. Summers, treasurer" on the fliers. Such an entity does not exist, prosecutors said. There is a Citizens for Change registered in Maryland, but it is an Anne Arundel County Republican group with a different treasurer. Summers, prosecutors said, had no role in the false flier.
In the days leading to the primaries, numerous candidates reported the distribution of not-so-accurate sample ballots and fliers. We reported on several instances, including in the Della/Ferguson matchup and in the Stone/Hadfield race.
What sets the Mathis flier apart, prosecutors said, is that it included a phony authority line -- a clear violation of the law. Sample ballots and fliers urging voters to select candidates who haven't endorsed each other, as in the examples linked above, aren't necessary illegal, so long as the authority line is real.
The Mathis fliers drew the attention of Angela Alsobrooks, a candidate for Prince George's County state's attorney who was surprised to see an "Official Democratic Ballot" with a checkmark for Sen C. Anthony Muse comingled with one for her opponent, Thomas Dernoga.
More checkmarks for little-known Democratic delegate candidates, rather than ones Muse was known to support, also served as red flags for Alsobrooks.
In her letter to Gansler and other election law authorities, Alsobrooks noted that "Prince George's County has a well-documented history of last-minute fraudulent election practices."
Gansler obtained a restraining order Sept. 7 on those sample ballots, and the charges against Mathis followed. A trial date has not been set.
Incidentally, the ballots seemed to have little influence among voters: Alsobrooks walloped Dernoga and other Democratic primary opponents.