Ellen Sauerbrey came so close to achieving the impossible that she just won’t give up.
In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1, the little-known GOP legislator came within a whisker of becoming the first female governor and the first Republican since Spiro Agnew won 28 years ago.
Two months after the election, she’s still trying to shave that whisker, but the razor’s getting worn.
Officially, Sauerbrey lost by only 5,993 votes, out of more than 1.4 million cast, to Democrat Parris Glendening, and he was certified the winner.
That didn’t stop her from attending a Republican Governors’ Association meeting in November. The name tags of the 21 GOP governors and governors-elect said “governor”; hers said “official party.”
While Glendening is busy preparing for his Jan. 18 inauguration, a trial starts today on Sauerbrey’s insistent claim that she was cheated of victory - that votes were cast by dead people, prison inmates and unregistered voters.
She wants a judge to declare her the winner or order a new election.
However, some cracks have developed in her allegations:
Some of the voters she claims are dead are very much alive, and several say they voted for Sauerbrey.
One of the 37 names on her list of dead voters is Mary Apicella. “I’m a Democrat, but I voted for Sauerbrey,” the 67-year-old bookkeeper told The Washington Post.
Sauerbrey acknowledges she has no evidence the Glendening campaign or the Democratic Party was involved in any vote fraud.
She has offered no evidence that any challenged votes were cast for Glendening.
A majority of her challenges are based not on fraud but on the failure of voters and election officials to comply with the letter of the law.
At a hearing Saturday, her lawyers conceded that they no longer are claiming more than 40,000 votes were cast by people who had moved and did not change their addresses. They dropped the number to only about 4,400, and Glendening’s lawyers believe it’s much lower.
Even if some of those people did vote, Democrats say, it’s only a technical violation.
“That’s not fraud,” said Bruce Marcus, head of Glendening’s legal team. “This is garbage.”
Sauerbrey also is challenging 4,774 votes cast in the name of people who were in prison on Election Day. But George Nilson, a Glendening lawyer, said almost all of those people are legitimate voters who have the same names as people in prison.
Aided by top U.S. Republicans such as House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, Sauerbrey hopes to raise $1.5 million for her legal battle.
“I hope Marylanders will understand why I can’t walk away from this fight,” Sauerbrey said. “Sadly, there is considerable evidence that the voting process has, indeed, been corrupted.”
But even some supporters think it is time to move on.
“In any election, you’re going to have a certain number of illegal votes,” said James Johnson, a lawyer who said he voted for Sauerbrey and would do so again. “Enough is enough.”
No precedent exists in Maryland - and little nationally - for such a challenge.
“This has gone beyond just a simple challenge to the results. It’s now becoming ridiculous,” Glendening said.