Maryland Board of Elections chooses new administrator after 25-year run

June 8, 2023

Washington Post

Longtime state election board staffer Jared DeMarinis replaces Linda H. Lamone, who is stepping down after more than 25 years administering Maryland elections

For the first time in a quarter-century, the Maryland Board of Elections on Thursday chose a new administrator to oversee state elections at a time of heightened scrutiny and technical challenges.

The bipartisan board unanimously appointed Jared DeMarinis, who serves as the director of candidacy and campaign finance division of the state board of elections, to the position that had been held for more than 25 years by Linda H. Lamone. DeMarinis will assume the position of state election administrator on Sept. 1.

He called voting a “sacred right” that generation after generation has fought for and added that he is committed to taking proactive action against the perils facing democracy in Maryland, particularly efforts to spread misinformation that undermines elections.

Board members emphasized DeMarinis’s longtime service as a staff member for the election board and highlighted his nonpartisan approach as two key factors in their decision. On Thursday, in a swift meeting that lasted less than 10 minutes, they unanimously voted to install DeMarinis after 18 years leading the division that oversees campaign finance issues in Maryland elections.

“We were particularly impressed in the interviewing process with how Jared has run his division, with a premium on customer service and a nonpartisan approach,” said board member T. Sky Woodward.

William G. Voelp, chairman of the board of elections, said the board expects DeMarinis will work closely with the outgoing Lamone to ensure a smooth transition later this summer.

With Lamone set to retire in September, the board of elections raced to fill her seat so that the new appointee would have time to transition into the role. The board opened applications for a two-week window last month and quickly narrowed the pool down to three finalists. Board members chose to keep the applicants’ identities secret despite public pressure to bring more transparency to the process.

Lamone, 80, announced her retirement this year amid a push by state legislators to make it easier for the board of elections to remove and replace the elections administrator. State Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery) introduced the bill that would have made Lamone’s ouster possible had she not retired. That bill passed unanimously in the state House and with just two dissenting votes in the state Senate.

For legislators such as Kagan, a fresh face heading up the state’s elections has been a long time coming. Kagan had criticized Lamone as not communicating well with legislators or the public.

“There was, and is, strong consensus that it was time for new leadership,” Kagan said. “Especially as elections are under a microscope, we need an administrator who can communicate and collaborate with all of the stakeholders.”

Those stakeholders include the state legislators who frequently pass new election-related bills that the administrator must implement; county election officials who deal with many of the on-the-ground details of each Maryland election cycle; and the public, which relies on the election administrator and their staff to ensure that elections are open, fair and transparent.

Lamone was first installed as elections administrator by Gov. Parris Glendening (D) in 1997. She had been a trial attorney who represented Glendening’s campaign in an election challenge.

Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich attempted to remove her in 2004 and install a new elections administrator. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) blocked Ehlrich’s efforts and passed legislation that made it extremely difficult to remove Lamone from that office for nearly 20 years.

Lamone declined to comment on her tenure as elections administrator, her retirement or the board’s vote to replace her.

The language protecting Lamone’s position was removed from state statute this year after Gov. Wes Moore (D) signed Kagan’s bill into law. Now, the board of elections, which must include representatives from both major political parties, holds the power to hire and fire the elections administrator.

DeMarinis will oversee the 2024 election, which will be a major test of public trust in the democratic process after widespread and unproven conspiracy theories about the 2020 election results burdened state and county election officials across the nation. Maryland emerged from that election cycle without any major scandals, but increased scrutiny of the process in 2020 and 2022 has highlighted hiccups and delays in counting votes caused by an increasing preference for mail-in ballots.

“The conspiracy theorists and the election deniers need to be reassured that elections in Maryland and accurate and transparent,” Kagan said.

She said she believes DeMarinis has the necessary experience and open-mindedness to make sure leaders of both political parties remain confident in Maryland’s election process and results.

The new administrator will also have the opportunity to play a key role in choosing new voting machines for the state, which are intended to be ready for use by 2026, Kagan added.