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State elections board set to name successor to Lamone


State elections board set to name successor to Lamone

Jun 04, 2023 | 8:09 am ET
By Bryan P. Sears
State elections board set to name successor to Lamone
The Maryland State Board of Elections office in Annapolis. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Maryland’s state elections board is scheduled to name a successor to outgoing state Elections Administrator Linda Lamone Monday afternoon.

Lamone is expected to depart around Sept. 1. The board launched a speedy search in early May with a two-week period for accepting resumes from candidates.

The field was narrowed to a small set of finalists before the Memorial Day weekend. The board privately interviewed those candidates last week.

Here’s a look at what is known about the search and the expected announcement:

A rare pick

The five-member board arrived at this moment after Lamone announced in March she would leave the job she’s held for more than two decades.

Lamone was appointed in 1997 by then-Gov. Parris Glendening (D) to lead what would later become the State Board of Elections. Over that time she’s cultivated her own cadre of supporters and critics.

In 2004, Glendening’s successor, Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. tried to oust her. The legislature blocked him by passing what became known as the “Linda Lamone for Life Act.”

The measure, which became law over Ehrlich’s veto, ended the board’s autonomy to hire and fire the elections administrator. In its place, the Senate would have to confirm a new administrator before the current one could be removed.

And the candidates are…

Little is known about the three candidates interviewed last week by the board.

William Voelp, a Republican who chairs the panel, justified the silence by calling the search a “personnel matter.”

Voelp last week declined to provide specifics on the number of total applicants. He did say at least one finalist is from outside Maryland.

The three finalists were part of a pool of applicants who expressed interest over a two-week period.

Two veterans of the office were widely considered to be interested in the job.

Nikki Charlson started at the state board in 2003 and is now the deputy elections administrator. She is frequently the face and voice of the agency, speaking to lawmakers and during meetings of the Board of Public Works.

Jared DeMarinis is the director of candidacy and campaign finance for the board and a nearly 20-year veteran of the agency.

Neither would comment on whether or not they applied for the top job.

Announcement pending

The five-member board is expected to name Lamone’s successor on Monday during a virtual meeting that starts at noon.

The meeting will be live streamed to the public.

Voelp in earlier statements said he hoped to have a new administrator in place quickly to allow for overlap between the incoming administrator and Lamone.

Why now?

There’s nothing immediately special about the timing of this process except that it was triggered by Lamone’s decision to retire.

That said, there are events that stand adjacent to her decision.

First, a new state law that went into effect on Thursday returns authority to the five-member board to hire and fire the administrator.

The bill, sponsored by Senate Education, Energy and Environment Vice Chair Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery), rolls back the 2005 law requiring Senate confirmation. The change makes the administrator serve at the pleasure of the board, which can hire or fire if four members agree.

The board is also up to full strength with the appointment late last month of Yaakov “Jake” Weissmann. The former chief of staff to two Senate presidents and the current assistant chief administrative officer to Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) fills a vacancy created by the departure of Justin Williams, who joined the Maryland Stadium Authority board.

Finally, naming a new administrator comes ahead of the state’s board’s effort to purchase new voting machines that will be used in 2026.

“For [Lamone] to pick something and then have her successor saddled with her selection is inappropriate,” said Kagan, who has called for a more forward-thinking approach to the new machines, including the ability to have ranked choice voting in Maryland.

Republicans hold board majority but won’t control the pick

By law, the office of governor determines which party controls the elections board.

In July, the membership swings to a 3-2 split in favor of Democrats following the election of Gov. Wes Moore (D). (Fun fact to know and tell: this shift is already happening at county boards of election, including Montgomery County, which has an elaborate swearing-in ceremony also scheduled for Monday afternoon.)

For the vote on Monday, the current state elections board naming Lamone’s successor will be dominated by Republicans.

It means less than one might think.

Decisions of the board must be approved by a supermajority. In this case, at least four board members — one of the two Democrats — must agree.

But in a time where the politics of elections is so heated, some say they hope the current makeup of the board will ease tensions.

“One of the reasons why I am so comfortable with the Republicans being in the majority is because during a time when some Republican leaders are stoking the fires of conspiracy theories and raising doubts as to whether elections are accurate and being run fairly, making sure that the Republicans are in the majority for the selection of the new administrator is an important and very clear message that Republicans can trust our state elections,” said Kagan. “I don’t want to lose another month, waiting until after the new board members are in and all that.”