State elections board wants new administrator in place before Lamone departs

April 18, 2023

Maryland Matters


The Maryland State Board of Elections office in Annapolis. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Maryland’s long-serving elections administrator will have a hand in setting standards for choosing her successor.

Linda Lamone, 80, announced last month her departure from the agency she has helmed for nearly a quarter century. The Maryland State Board of Elections on Tuesday charged Lamone with writing a job description and qualifications to be used in the search for her replacement.

State Elections Board Chair William G. Voelp, speaking during the board meeting, said it might be ideal to have a successor in place before Lamone leaves.

“It’s not a decision we have to make today or anything like that, but I think that it would be prudent for us to keep this process moving forward on a pretty quick timeframe, which is what we’re looking at right now,” Voelp said. “So that at the end of this process, we can be shooting for having an administrator appointed to overlap with Linda so that the new incoming administrator gets some time, boots-on-the-ground time in the office, the benefit of Linda’s wisdom, and there’s overlap.”

The board voted unanimously to task Lamone with the initial phase of the job searchwhich includes her developing a job description and qualifications in consultation with local elections administrators and the Maryland Association of Elections Officials.

Lamone’s first draft, which board members want no later than May 2, can be amended by the five-member panel. Voelp said the group will review Lamone’s draft and make recommendations on a timeline for advertising the position during their May 4 meeting.

Senate Education, Energy and Environment Vice Chair Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery) said such a review is reasonable and will ensure a thorough search for the best candidate.

Maryland Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone (left) and Deputy Administrator Nikki Charlson at a legislative hearing. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

“There are some who believe that an elections administrator with Maryland experience would be ideal,” said Kagan. “Others may want to look more broadly.”

And while other names have yet to emerge, Nikki Charlson, the current deputy elections administrator, is considered by some to be a possible contender for the position. Charlson has been with the agency since 2003.

Kagan applauded the idea of an overlap.

“I am confident that we will ultimately have a thoughtful, collaborative, communicative and experienced new administrator in the very near future,” Kagan said. “I do think that having some overlap — Linda’s staying on longer is less than was the ideal, in my opinion — but the benefit of that is that her successor will have an opportunity to learn the ropes.”

Lamone told the same panel in late March that she intended to leave her post possibly this summer or by September.

During nearly 25 years in office, Lamone has been at times a polarizing figure.

She is widely credited with modernizing state elections systems and campaign finance reporting.

But she has not been without detractors.

In 2004, then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) attempted to fire Lamone — a move seen by some as retribution for her service on the trial team of Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) in 1994 when he and former Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey (R) engaged in a legal battle over a narrow election result. Sauerbrey, who lost by 5,993 votes, unsuccessfully alleged widespread voter fraud.

Ehrlich’s attempt led to the passage in 2004 of legislation that came to be called the “Linda Lamone for Life Act.” The law limits the ability to remove an elections administrator by requiring approval of four of the five board members. It also requires that the administrator would remain on the job until a replacement is confirmed by the Maryland Senate.

That law could be undone by legislation passed this session, sponsored by Kagan, which would remove Senate confirmation from the process of hiring the administrator. If signed by Gov. Wes Moore (D), the bill would take effect June 1.

Kagan herself has locked horns with Lamone and has expressed concerns over what she says is the outgoing director’s inability to adapt to new technologies.

“I want someone who will work more with elected officials and party leaders, with the press, who will be more accessible, who understands and is open to technology and who keeps Maryland on the national stage because our elections are very well run,” said Kagan.  “I think we have reason to brag about that, but we have also had some snafus.”

Kagan said Lamone and the state board of elections should delay its search for new voting machines until a new director is hired.

“I think it’s inappropriate for Linda to begin the process or start with selection and then have someone else who would inherit her decision,” said Kagan. “I think that would not serve the board or our elections well.”