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Henson tells jury calls meant to drive voters

Testifying for a second day in his election fraud trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court, political consultant Julius Henson told the jury Monday that automated phone calls that spurred the charges were not meant to keep voters home but to drive apathetic ones to go to the polls.

The case was spurred by a series of automated calls made to registered Democrat voters in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, urging them to stay home and watch television instead of voting. Henson, who was hired by the campaign of former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., has argued that the calls were meant to be counter-intuitive and spur dissatisfied voters to go to the polls.

Henson told the jury that he normally does not work on Election Day, but took a call from Ehrlich’s campaign manager Paul Schurick that afternoon. He said the two discussed a possible automated call going out to last-minute voters.

Henson said he was at the McDonald’s restaurant on Erdman Avenue with his 8-year old granddaughter when he got the call from Schurick to go ahead with the call. He said he scratched out the dialogue in about 3 minutes, hand-writing the copy on a napkin before dictating it to his employee who provided the voice and handled the technical aspects of getting the call sent out.

Henson said he came up with the controversial dialogue because it was leading up to the end of voting and the former governor had been polling double-digits behind the incumbent Democratic candidate. He said he wanted to do something to jolt apathetic voters to get out and vote, not trick Democratic voters into staying home.

“In my mind, I wrote the call to stimulate voting activity between the hours of 6 and 8 p.m.,” Henson said.

Henson said the call also fit in with a plan he had proposed of “suppression” of the African-American vote. He said while the term might sound harsh, it actually is just taking advantage of voter apathy to push them to either vote across party lines in a general election or at least just skip, in the 2010 election, the gubernatorial contest part of the ticket.

‘It’s a legitimate political tactic,” he said. “It’s all part of political campaigning.”

In other testimony, Henson’s attorney, Edward Smith Jr., continued laying groundwork for his claim that the election fraud law, amended in 2006, applies only to people who work directly for the campaign, not to businesses or service providers it hires.

His questioning again on Monday repeatedly pointed out Henson is actually an employee of the companies he owns — Politics Today and Universal Elections.

But under cross-examination, Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas M. “Mike” McDonough got Henson to say that he was the only employee of his two companies, under the definition that an employee receives a W-2 tax form. Henson also said that he was the resident agent for both companies as well as director and sole shareholder.

Henson, 63, faces two counts of conspiracy to violate election laws, one count of election fraud and one count of violating the authority line requirement. It is believed to be the first trial under the amended law.

Henson is expected to resume his testimony on Tuesday morning.