Hornberger Sent ‘Replacement’ Disclosure Form After Cecil County Exec GOP Primary; Had “Ballot Harvesting” Plan, Documents Show

August 10, 2020

A CECIL TIMES Special Report—Part 1

Danielle Hornberger, apparent winner of the Republican primary election for Cecil County Executive, sent a “replacement” financial disclosure statement to the county Board of Elections in early July, more than a month after the election and seven months after the statement should have been filed under election laws, according to documents newly obtained by Cecil Times. The document was produced after multiple emails and conversations with local election officials and back-dated forms were inserted belatedly into county and state files, documents show.

The documents tend to confirm, at least in part, most of the allegations contained in a Circuit Court lawsuit filed by current Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy, who lost overwhelmingly to Hornberger in the June 2 GOP primary election. McCarthy is seeking to invalidate the results of the primary, saying that Hornberger failed to qualify for the ballot and that some documents were falsified and backdated to cover up a “conspiracy” to violate the law. He is also seeking a temporary restraining order and an injunction to keep Hornberger’s name off the November general election ballot.

McCarthy and his lawyers are seeking an expedited Circuit Court hearing in the case and are scheduled to conduct depositions of key players in the matter, including Mrs. Hornberger, this week

[SEE previous CECIL TIMES Special Report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2020/07/cecil-county-exec-mccarthy-sues-danielle-hornberger-election-board-on-missing-falsified-documents-claiming-fraud-conspiracy-elections-deputy-leaves-post/ ]

In addition, documents newly obtained independently by CECIL TIMES show that Mrs. Hornberger discussed a “ballot harvesting” plan in a personal meeting with the director of the Cecil County Board of Elections (BOE) shortly before the June 2 primary, in which the vast majority of votes were cast by mail-in ballots due to the COVID-19 pandemic. State law allows, but places strict controls, on the practice of individuals obtaining absentee ballots from voters and then delivering them to the BOE. But election officials said few affidavit documents were filed as required for ballot collectors and most of those filed just list the names of the voter rather than another person who handled the ballot.

The director of the Cecil County Board of Elections, Ruie Lavoie, sent an email to Mrs. Hornberger, a day after an in-person meeting with Hornberger at which “ballot harvesting” was discussed, that stated her interpretation of election law on the issue indicating that Hornberger’s plan was OK but that contradicted the text of state election law. Hornberger thanked Lavoie for her email and the meeting.

For many weeks, there have been unconfirmed reports throughout the county that mail ballots were collected by supporters of the Hornberger campaign from individual voters and transported to ballot collection boxes. But there have not been affidavits, as required under state election laws, filed to confirm such ‘harvesting.’ The newly disclosed email indicates that Lavoie and the Hornberger campaign apparently considered such documentation unnecessary, despite state law to the contrary. Were the ballots to be collected by drones and somehow dropped off at the BOE or its drop-off ballot boxes?

Critics of mail-in balloting contend that “ballot harvesting” is conducive to fraud or vote tampering, with ballots believed to support an opponent of the harvester not delivered to the elections board to be counted.

CECIL TIMES has filed multiple document requests under the state Public Information Act which have yielded copies of emails and other documents involving Mrs. Hornberger’s interactions with the local BOE. In addition, an email document obtained from Cecil County records confirms that an employee of the local BOE personally delivered Hornberger financial disclosure forms to the county Human Resources department on 7/7/2020.

But the emails also indicate there were telephone or other means of communications between Hornberger and BOE officials, with references or time lags between emails indicating there were intervening conversations

Meanwhile, the court case was already politically volatile but the selection of lawyers representing both sides adds a new dimension of political overtones.

Hornberger is being represented by Dirk Haire, the chairman of the state Republican Party and a close political ally of US Rep. Andy Harris (R-1), the financial and political godfather of the Hornberger campaign. Haire and his wife, Jessica, an Anne Arundel County Council member with political aspirations to run for that county’s Executive position, are listed as co-counsel, from the Washington, DC law firm of Fox, Rothschild, LLP.

[Haire has played an oversized role in local Cecil County GOP politics and CECIL TIMES will have additional information on that, as well as irregularities with the county’s GOP Central Committee and its role in picking members of the Board of Elections, in Part 2 of this special report, coming soon.]

McCarthy’s local Cecil County counsel is William Riddle but he has also enlisted some legal and political firepower with the addition of Timothy F. Maloney, of Joseph, Greenwald and Laske, of Greenbelt. Md. Co-counsel from the same firm is Megan Benevento.

Maloney, a former member of the state House of Delegates and a lifelong friend of Gov. Larry Hogan (with a mention in Hogan’s new autobiographical/political book), is also a high-powered lawyer who has represented the Hogan campaign in the past and represented clients in many major civil cases around the state. During his political career in Annapolis, he was considered a “political powerhouse,” as one newspaper profile declared, and a highly skilled player in legislative deal-making.

In response to information and document requests by CECIL TIMES, the local Board of Elections, which is a state agency although it is located in the county’s administration building in Elkton, disclosed that there were no financial disclosure forms filed by Mrs. Hornberger “prior to” 7/7/2020. On that date, two forms were inserted into the BOE record files and the files of the county Human Resources department, which is the custodian of ethics forms required to be filed by county elected officials and candidates for elective county offices.

The forms inserted into the files were backdated to 11/5/2019, which is also the date on which Hornberger filed her official certificate of candidacy for the County executive position. Election law requires the filing of a financial disclosure report at the same time as a candidacy statement is filed and failure to do so disqualifies a candidate from the ballot. The text of the forms inserted into the county HR and BOE files did not exist on 11/5/2019, due to the Ethics Commission revising the text at a mid-November meeting and revisions not being included on the printed forms until mid-December 2019.

Election and ethics laws specify that if a candidate already has on file a financial disclosure statement with the local Ethics Commission it is not necessary to file another one. So, GOP candidates McCarthy and County Councilor Bill Coutz, who also ran for County Executive, would not have to file a new financial form since they already had one on file for the previous calendar year. But as a first-time candidate, Hornberger was mandated to do so and an information packet and checklist given to candidates spells out that requirement.

The belated Hornberger document was not notarized. According to the state BOE website, “It is important to note that a candidate for a state office and various county offices are required to have the financial disclosure form notarized. If the form is not notarized, it will be deemed not filed and the candidate will not appear on the ballot.”

Shortly after the June 2 primary election, questions were raised about whether Hornberger had complied with the requirement to filed a financial disclosure statement, which is mandatory to qualify for the election ballot. Searches by the county HR department, which is the custodian of records for the county’s Ethics Commission, the Circuit Court Clerk, and the local BOE all failed to find any Hornberger filings. That set off a series of emails, and apparent phone conversations, between Mrs. Hornberger and Lora Walters, the longtime deputy director of the local BOE. (Ms. Walters’ employment with the BOE was ended on 7/15/2020, board officials confirmed, but they declined to disclose whether she resigned voluntarily, was asked to resign, or was fired.)

Ms. Walters played a key role in discussing the financial disclosure statement with Hornberger and, by her own admission and other documents obtained by CECIL TIMES, delivering documents to county and state agency files in July, 2020.

In an email dated 7/6/2020, Walters wrote to Hornberger: “Can you email me a receipt showing you filed your financial disclosure?” Hornberger replied that she did not “remember what it looked like” and asked “what am I looking for.”

Walters replied that it was the form on which she listed her “financial assets.” On 7/7/20 at 8.18 am, Hornberger wrote that “I’m pretty sure I provided it but I didn’t find my copy.” Then, at 8.52 am that morning, Hornberger asked Walters to “please give me a call.”

Suddenly, a few hours later, at 10.32 am on 7/7/20, Hornberger sent an email to Walters, on the same email thread, saying “I have attached the replacement form. Let me know if you need anything else.” It would appear there was a telephone conversation between the 8.52 am message and the 10.32 am submission of a “replacement form.”

Walters replied via email at 10.40 am “Thank you Danielle. I will take it up to HR now.”

But the financial document attached to Hornberger’s email shows a hand-written date of 7/7/2020. The document filed the same day by Walters with the county HR department and the BOE files shows a signature date of 11/5/2019. The electronic copy of the document filed in official records does not indicate white-out or alteration of the date. It could not be determined if there was another document filing sent to Walters with the earlier date that could have been inserted into the official records.

Meanwhile, Hornberger requested and received an in-person meeting with Lavoie, the local BOE director, held at 5 pm on 5/20/2020 “to provide an overview of how this election is structured as well as answer any questions you may have,” according to an email from the BOE director.

The next day, Lavoie wrote in an email to Hornberger to follow up on issues discussed at that meeting: “I reach out to the State Board and asked the 2 questions I was not able to answer yesterday. Below is what I learned.:
— Video of ballot box retention – 22 months
— With respect to “ballot harvesting,” there’s nothing in State law that prohibits someone from dropping off someone else’s ballot. Election Law Article, §9-307 governs using someone else to pick up, deliver and return a ballot, but this provision doesn’t apply to someone just dropping off a ballot for someone else.”

But Lavoie’s comments are questionable under provisions of state election law (9-307) regarding “use of an agent in absentee ballot process.” That provision requires that an “authorized agent” may “pick up and deliver an absentee ballot” to the elections board if that agent is “designated in a writing signed by the voter under penalty of perjury” in an “affidavit.”

Although there is no written record of just what sort of “ballot harvesting” plan Hornberger had in mind, it raises questions of how someone could be “just dropping off a ballot for someone else” without obtaining possession of the ballot from the voter. Drone deliveries to someone’s house for them to pick up from the back yard and then deposit in a ballot drop off box???

Clearly there would have to be personal interaction between the voter and the “dropping off” person, which would invoke the state election law governing another person from collecting and delivering someone else’s ballot to the BOE.


–Part 2 of the CECIL TIMES Special Report on the 2020 Republican Primary: State GOP Leaders Put Thumb on Primary Scale for Hornberger

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