DeMarinis is unanimous pick to lead the State Board of Elections

June 8, 2023

Maryland Matters

Jared DeMarinis, director of candidacy and campaign finance for the Maryland State Board of Elections, during an April bill signing. File photo by Bryan P. Sears.

An 18-year veteran of the Maryland State Board of Elections will take the reins this fall as the agency’s new elections administrator.

The five-member board unanimously approved the selection of Jared DeMarinis to succeed long-time administrator Linda Lamone.

“Voting is, of course, a sacred right that has been fought for by each and every generation,” said DeMarinis. This period has some of the greatest advances in technology to help assist us in making sure everyone has the ability to vote. But it comes with some perils as well. We must be proactive in dealing with those, especially the number one threat to voting and democracy which is dis-, mis- and malinformation.”

DeMarinis, 49 and a New Jersey native, was a veteran of political campaigns in the District of Columbia before coming to Maryland. He was part of the legal team representing Sen. Robert G. Torricelli (D) in a 2002 case before the New Jersey State Supreme Court that successfully argued to allow then Rep. Frank Lautenberg (D) to replace him on the ballot.

He previously worked as an attorney on cases in New Jersey involving excessive campaign contributions, improper campaign expenditures and voter fraud.

DeMarinis is a widower and father of two teenage daughters.

“That’s I think why I’m so interested in technology,” he said “I’m always on there like what are you guys listening to?”

Since joining the State Board of Elections nearly 18-years to the day of Thursday’s board vote, DeMarinis has presided over a number of changes to laws and regulations governing the changing digital landscape of elections.

During that time, Maryland was one of the first states to enact regulations governing the use of social media by campaigns as well as the use of online payments platforms including PayPal.

“We’ve always been technologically advanced in our laws and our regulations for uses by campaigns,” DeMarinis said. “We’ve passed laws recently making sure that bots are covered by campaign law and recently we had some regulations on deep fakes. So, yeah, I’ve always kept my finger on the pulse of technology.”

DeMarinis will assume his new role Sept. 1 as Lamone steps down. He’ll be responsible for finding his replacement overseeing candidates and campaign finance. There’s also the fast-approaching 2024 election season.

“The primary is less than a year away,” he said. “The clock has started for election administrators. We’re ramping up, making sure that we’re starting to be prepared for the upcoming election. Presidential elections always have the highest voter turnout. So it should be challenging and exciting.”

DeMarinis’ selection capped a fast-paced search by the elections board. That search began in May following Lamone’s retirement announcement.

“Again, just noting the nonpartisan nature of his work, this board was particularly impressed with Jared’s passion for a nonpartisan approach to elections, his vision for the State Board of Elections, energy for cooperation and innovation, innovative solution-based approaches and things that will have to be advanced in the next realm of the State Board of Elections after many, many years of extremely capable leadership by Linda Lamone,” said Sky Woodward, a Republican board member who nominated DeMarinis for a final vote.

The board — made up of three Republicans and two Democrats — delayed a scheduled vote Monday because of the absence of Michael Summers, a Democrat. Under state law, the board needs four votes to hire or fire a new elections administrator.

“I’m especially delighted that the vote was unanimous,” said Senate Education, Energy and Environment Vice Chair Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery). “It shows that leaders from both parties have faith in him to continue our great election system and move forward with new voting equipment and new technologies that will ensure that everyone who is allowed to vote will have that opportunity.”

DeMarinis is well-known in state campaign circles from having served as director of candidacy and campaign finance. He’s also known to lawmakers and frequently consults with them on elections-related legislation.

“Jared has been a wonderful partner for legislators from both parties,” said Kagan. “He understands technology and works well with our 24 local boards of elections.”

Kagan is a frequent sponsor of elections-related bills.

“I’ve gone through a lot of election legislation,” she said. “I’ve been working on these issues for a very long time. And every year I tend to call Jared to talk through my ideas, early concepts. I sent him drafts of legislation. We review it line by line to make sure that it accomplishes my goals in a bill. He offers feedback and suggestions as to others that I might want to consult, and it makes the whole legislative process run more smoothly. It’s easier to come in with a bill that’s ready to go rather than need to craft amendments.”

DeMarinis was one of three finalists interviewed by the board in late May. The panel, which was not publicly identified, included one out-of-state candidate. Also believed to be in that pool was current Deputy Elections Administrator Nikki Charlson, a veteran of roughly two decades.

Charlson was the subject of public support from John Willis, a former secretary of state under former Gov. Parris Glendening (D). Charlson worked in the secretary of state’s office.

She moved to the State Board of Elections after Glendening appointed Lamone to lead the agency in 1997.

Lamone, who turns 81 in July, announced her retirement in March after more than 25 years as the state’s top elections official.

Willis, in an interview earlier this week, praised Lamone for her steadfast leadership, saying the agency had been successful in administering elections “by any objective measure.”

Lamone, however, was also a polarizing figure at times. Lawmakers over the years groused about her lack of accessibility. Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) unsuccessfully attempted to oust her in 2004.

That attempt led to legislation that made it more difficult to remove the state elections administrator — frequently referred to as the “Linda Lamone for Life Act.” Ehrlich vetoed the bill and the legislature overrode him, enacting the bill in 2005.

She remained virtually untouchable over the next 18 years until Gov. Wes Moore (D) signed into law legislation passed by Kagan that removed the protections enacted in 2005.

Kagan said she hopes new leadership signals more opportunities to coordinate with elections officials.

“It’s a long journey to get election legislation through,” Kagan said. Being able to consult with the administrator, whose expertise and insights are valuable, will help make everything go more smoothly. I can tell you again, speaking for myself, I’ve never had that opportunity with Linda.”