A Maryland state prosecutor was investigating reports of misconduct yesterday in the push to get out voters for the tight gubernatorial race, the state election administrator said.
With polls leading up to the election showing Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. nearly deadlocked, their campaigns scrambled yesterday to prod their supporters to vote, prompting allegations that both sides were violating election laws.
Election administrator Linda Lamone said prosecutors were investigating reports that homeless people were paid to hand out fliers by a group called Democrats for Ehrlich. Joanne C. Benson, a Democratic state delegate from Prince George's, alleged that the homeless were paid $100 to distribute sample ballots.
Two men standing outside a polling station at Ridge Crest Elementary School in Chillum said they had been picked up by the Ehrlich campaign before sunrise from the Community for Creative Non-Violence, a shelter in the District. The men said they were promised $100 if they spent the day passing out fliers.
"They just said they needed 100 cats to pass out fliers and they were paying $100 apiece," said one of the men, who was afraid to give his name for fear of not being paid. "They said don't talk to anybody. If anybody asks you anything, just say 'I am working for Shirley.' "
Paul Schurick, an Ehrlich spokesman, said he had no knowledge of homeless people being paid. "I don't buy it. I don't doubt they said it, I just don't buy it," he said.
At the same time, Republicans charged that Democrats paid workers to stump for Townsend. The Maryland attorney general approved a Democratic plan to pay more than 1,000 people $100 each to coax voters to the polls.
Democrats insisted that their effort was within the law, which allows parties to pay for get-out-the-vote efforts as long as the work is nonpartisan.
Late yesterday morning, hundreds of men and women huddled in the fall chill outside a Prince George's shopping center, dozens of vans waiting to ferry them to neighborhoods across the county to help flush out voters.
The ad hoc army -- including homeless people, high school students and men and women taking the day off from work -- had turned out in part for a modest payday from the Democratic Party.
They would each get $75 at the end of their shift.
"I'm here for the money," said Denise Hill, 47, from the Shepherd's Cove shelter in Capitol Heights. She stood in line behind the Pen-Mar shopping center in Forestville, waiting for an organizer to call her contingent to pile into a van.
"Now, this is politics," said Democratic Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.), beaming as he wandered through the crowd shaking hands.
Later in the day, Wynn issued a statement saying that campaign literature was being circulated that featured Ehrlich "with several Maryland Democrats, including Congressman Wynn."
"It should be made clear to voters that this piece is in no way a show of support for Bob Ehrlich," Wynn said in the statement.
Despite the get-out-the-vote effort, state elections officials estimated that turnout across Maryland reached 60 percent, slightly less than the 61 percent posted in 1998 and 1994. Earlier estimates had been higher; it was unclear whether a cold rain that began falling around 4:30 p.m. discouraged people from voting after work.
Townsend's prospects had appeared to hinge on a high turnout, particularly in Montgomery County, Prince George's and Baltimore, where labor unions and a coalition of community activists were helping to lure voters to the polls.
By 7 a.m. in Prince George's, labor organizers were visiting the homes of their members, draping front doors with "Vote Today!" placards that featured a photo of Townsend.
"This is like hand-to-hand combat," said Josh Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of AFL-CIO, as he canvassed a Forestville neighborhood.
In Cherry Hill, a predominantly black neighborhood in south Baltimore, nearly every lamppost was covered with green signs urging residents to vote.
A gray van parked outside Carter Goodwin Woodson Elementary School had signs taped to its sides promoting Townsend and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings. The driver, who declined to give his name, said he was ferrying voters from their homes to polling places under the instruction of Cummings's campaign.
Ehrlich also had a get-out-the-vote operation in black communities, particularly in Prince George's, though his effort was considerably smaller than that of the Democrats and was specifically tailored to voters more than likely to support the Republican.
Wayne Clarke, coordinator of Ehrlich's campaign in Prince George's, said he had dispatched 200 volunteers to voters' homes to urge them to vote for Ehrlich. The campaign, he said, had about 50 vans waiting to help transport voters to the polls.