Two hours before polls closed on Tuesday, over 50,000 Maryland voters started receiving mysterious phone calls instructing them to “relax” and not bother voting because Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) had already won re-election.
The Baltimore Sun reported that calls were sent from the account associated with a controversial Democratic operative, Julius Henson, by Rhonda Russell, a former director of Progressive Maryland.
Russell, now a Universal Elections employee, placed the order with Robodial.org, a Pennsylvania company which works exclusively with Democrats. Universal Elections is the company of Henson, a longtime Democratic operative who is based out of Baltimore but worked as a consultant for the former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) this election cycle in his campaign against O’Malley. In an interesting twist, Hanson previously called Ehrlich a “Nazi,” but eventually took at least $32,000 in consulting fees from the Ehrlich campaign, according to the Sun.
“The individual who initiated these calls had been working for Democrats in the past, she had an account with us for more than a year, and we assumed she still was,” Robodial.org owner Mark Hampton told TPMMuckraker. “Some of the calls she made this year looked like Democratic calls to us, and hadn’t flagged this account as being something we should keep an eye on. It was a bad judgment call, looking back.”
The Baltimore Sun did not immediately reach Russell and Henson for comment Friday morning, and Ehrlich spokesman Andy Barth said the campaign would have no comment.
Robodial.org owner Hampton said the system is automated and the phone list was uploaded by Russell in a spreadsheet. The calls started at 6 p.m. and ended at 8 p.m., he told TPMMuckraker after examining the system. They are still trying to figure out how many calls went through, but said “over 50,000” numbers were dialed.
“I think these calls were just what people say they are,” Hampton said. “Why would anybody send a call, you know, telling people to relax, everything’s okay. Nobody pays for a call like that. There’s only one reason somebody sends a call like that and that’s to get people to stay home.”
Voters in Maryland who received the phone call heard a recording of a woman who said she was “calling to let everyone know that Gov. O’Malley and President Obama have been successful. Our goals have been met. The polls were correct, and we took [inaudible]. We’re okay. Relax. Everything is fine. The only thing left is to watch on TV tonight.”
Hampton said that Russell violated the website’s terms of service, and her account has been terminated. He said his company is “cooperating fully” with state prosecutors, but said the Justice Department has not contacted him yet.
Sen. Ben Cardin had written Attorney General Eric Holder investigate the calls, which Cardin said were “aimed at keeping minorities and others from exercising their inalienable right to vote.” Both Hampton and Russell are African-American.