February 15, 2023
By Adam Pagnucco.
Few legislators in Annapolis have introduced more bills on elections in recent years than Senator Cheryl Kagan, and her new package of reforms does not disappoint. I have previously written about her bill to fix future ballot debacles like the incident in District 18 last year. In addition to that one, the new Kagan bill that captures my attention the most is one that would repeal one of Maryland’s worst laws, a law that has haunted state elections for many years:
The awful Linda Lamone for Life law.
I wrote about this law in a June 2020 column. Here is how I introduced it:
Imagine a senior state employee appointed by the governor to a politically sensitive position. Now imagine the following hypothetical situation: the employee commits a heinous crime covered by every TV station in the state. Imagine this employee is then convicted and imprisoned. One would think that such an employee – any state employee, really – would be terminated from employment by the state in such a hypothetical circumstance.
You would be right – EXCEPT for one key position in state government: the State Administrator of Elections. Under current state law, that position would continue to be occupied by its current holder for a potentially indefinite period.
That law is commonly known as the “Linda Lamone for Life” law.
It must be repealed.
That description is hard to believe. In fact, I didn’t believe it myself prior to my researching the issue all the way back in 2009. But it’s absolutely true: because of a now-ancient 2005 dispute between then-Senate President Mike Miller and former Governor Bob Ehrlich, the state elections administrator is nearly impossible to fire without the assent of the senate president. The law passed by General Assembly Democrats back then provides that even if the State Board of Elections obtains a supermajority to fire the elections administrator, the administrator would continue in office until a successor is confirmed by the senate. I have never heard of a similar protection for anyone else in state government.
Since then, the very same administrator – Linda Lamone – has held the position despite numerous issues, including problems with campaign finance software, multiple adverse state audits, long lines on election day and flawed voting machines that were vulnerable to hacking. In 2018, a former member of the Montgomery County Board of Elections wrote a shocking Washington Post op-ed titled Maryland Can’t Protect its Elections. After a particularly bad 2020 primary plagued by more than a million delayed mail ballots, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford called for Lamone’s resignation. But Lamone is the ultimate survivor, and protected by one of the state’s worst laws, she weathered the storm and is still in her position more than 25 years after her original appointment.
Someday even Lamone will leave. But her successors – good, bad or otherwise – do not deserve such immunity from accountability. Kagan’s SB 863, which is co-sponsored by Republican Senator Bryan Simonaire and cross-filed by Delegate Dana Jones in the House, would remove the position’s extraordinary protections but still require a vote by four of the five members of the State Board of Elections to fire an administrator. Since no single political party may hold more than three of those seats, that protects an administrator from raw politics – and appropriately so. But it also ensures some degree of accountability for the competent administration of elections, something that is badly needed in Maryland.