Political consultant Julius Henson returned to the witness stand Monday and placed blame for a controversial Election Day 2010 robo-call on a top campaign aide to former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Henson told jurors in Baltimore Circuit Court that he was eating with his granddaughter at a McDonald’s at 4:42 p.m. on Election Day when Ehrlich campaign manager Paul Schurick called him and suggested Henson arrange the call, which prosecutors have described as a plan to suppress the African American vote through fraud.
The automated call suggested registered Democrats in Baltimore and Prince George’s County should “relax” and stay home. It implied that Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, had already won the race against Ehrlich, a Republican, even though the polls were still open.
Henson, who is charged with election fraud, testified that he wrote the call in three minutes on the back of a McDonald’s napkin and called Schurick to read him what he proposed to tell potential voters.
“That’s good,” Henson recalled Schurick telling him.
But Henson said he was surprised when Schurick instructed him not to include an Ehrlich campaign authority line on the call.
“I had no way of knowing the Ehrlich campaign was going to reject the authority line,” Henson testified. “I would have never dreamed they would have sent this call without the tag. . . . It wasn’t my decision to make.”
Schurick, during this trial, said he trusted Henson as a campaign consultant to create and handle the details of the robo-call. He testified that the campaign had a contract with Henson’s company that specified that it was Henson’s responsibility to make sure his actions were legal. Schurick was convicted in December of four charges in connection with the robo-call.
Asked by his attorney, Edward Smith Jr., about a much broader, $600,000 plan written by Henson that suggested suppressing votes throughout the state, Henson said he had written it based on conversations with Schurick. Henson said his plan was based on what he called the “Schurick Doctrine,” which prosecutors have defined as promoting “confusion, emotionalism and frustration” among black voters.
“This was a proposal based on what Mr. Schurick instructed me to do,” Henson testified. Henson and others have testified that the campaign rejected the plan more than three months before the election.
Henson said suppressing votes is a common tactic for political campaigns. He said efforts to suppress votes include negative advertising to make a candidate’s supporters unenthusiastic.
“To a consultant, voter suppression is just another term for voter apathy,” Henson said.