Maryland elections board chair promises to keep elections director out of hiring process

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This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

The chair of the Maryland State Board of Elections has promised to limit the retiring elections director’s involvement in the search for her successor.

Chair William G. Voelp made the promise following an elections board meeting Thursday that included approval of a job description and timeline to find a new state director.

Behind Voelp’s vow is concern about the role of State Administrator of Elections Linda Lamone in selecting her successor. Lamone’s participation in the board meeting included her guiding schedules for receiving resumes, for interviewing prospective candidates and even suggesting that out-of-state candidates be avoided — moves that drew a swift rebuke from one Democratic senator from Montgomery County.

“If you take selection out of succession, then I would say that she would definitely be part of the succession,” Voelp said. “In other words, we want overlap between whoever the new director is going to be and her so that there’s an information transfer that happens. But she will not be involved in the selection process.”

Lamone has said she is willing to serve through Sept. 1.

Voelp went on to say it was not his “intention to have any current staff in the interviews” and Lamone would not be present for deliberations on a possible hire unless the board had a specific question.

“So we want to keep out political influences,” he said. “It’s not a political position, right? We want to have the current administration not have a favorite child that they are able to manipulate through.”

A broad search is expected but on a condensed timeline. The board plans to advertise the position beginning Friday and take applications for two weeks.

The board would interview candidates on May 26. A successor would be named publicly at a special June 5 meeting.

“There’s no precedent for this,” said Voelp. “She (Lamone) was the first and only director, there’s never been another appointed. So there would have been nothing for instance, again, stopping legally or otherwise the board from already naming somebody that four people agreed to. That’s not the process we’ve chosen, right. We’ve chosen a more deliberative process.”

>> RELATED: Linda Lamone, Maryland’s long-serving elections director, announces retirement

Two local names have emerged early: current Deputy Administrator of Elections Nikki Charlson and Jared DeMarinis, director of the candidacy and campaign finance division.

Lamone, who is typically silent during board meetings, was much more vocal than usual during discussions about the search.

Last month, Lamone was tasked by the board to write a rough draft of a job description for prospective replacements. Thursday she tried to convince the board to exclude out-of-state candidates.

“I would really encourage you guys not to open it up to people out-of-state because it’s gonna take a lot of your time to review all these resumes and they’re just gonna have a very difficult time complying with this,” said Lamone. “The other states don’t run elections like Maryland does. So we’re just we’re kind of special here. There’s a couple that come close. I know everybody’s time is limited. So I’m just cautioning you on that.”

Kagan criticized Lamone’s comments and the appearance of her continued involvement in selecting a successor.

Senate Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee Vice Chair Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery). Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

“It is shocking to think that Linda Lamone believes that she would be so intimately involved with choosing her successor,” said Kagan who is vice chair of the Senate Education, Energy and Environment Committee. “It is completely inappropriate for her to review the applications, help decide which candidates get interviewed and to be present at the interview, let alone the decision-making.”

Kagan said Lamone’s involvement in crafting an initial draft of a job description was enough to raise eyebrows.

The board Thursday voted to alter Lamone’s draft. Some changes took into account suggestions Kagan made during the board meeting.

Key was Kagan’s preference that candidates have more knowledge of Maryland election law rather than federal law. Kagan also suggested a successful candidate have a deeper understanding of technology and said that the lack of such knowledge has led to “snafus” in previous Maryland elections.

Kagan said that while she prefers expertise on Maryland election law, that should not bar out-of-state candidates from applying.

“If there is a fabulous applicant from Nebraska, she or he should be interviewed as well,” Kagan said. “We want the best person for the job. And it’s not who Linda is buddies with, whether Linda approved. It’s the wisdom of the board.”

The board decided it will accept resumes from non-Maryland residents but noted that a special requirement of the job is that the incoming director must be registered to vote in Maryland once hired.

Kagan, a critic of Lamone, sponsored a bill, signed into law last month by Gov. Wes Moore (D), that ended the so-called “Linda Lamone for Life Act.” The bill undid a 2005 measure that prevented the five-member state elections board from firing the elections director without Senate approval of a successor. That bill was originally enacted after a partisan attempt to oust Lamone from her post.

Shortly before Kagan’s bill passed, Lamone announced her retirement from the job she’s held since 1997.

Under the new law, the elections director serves at the pleasure of the board. Four members of the board are needed to hire or fire a director.

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