An expedited effort to hire a new state elections administrator should include publicly naming the candidates who will be interviewed, according to one public watchdog group.
The Maryland State Board of Elections hopes to name a successor to long-time Elections Administrator Linda Lamone by June 5. It’s the first time in over two decades that the state has sought a new elections chief. The rare opening and compressed job search has some calling for greater transparency.
“If someone is being considered for the administrator role that is tasked with overseeing the department that is core to our democracy in the state, really the center of everything, we should at least know those names,” said Joanne Antoine, executive director of Common Cause Maryland. “It gives the public time to raise any concerns.”
So far, the board has declined to release any information about the applicants for the job. Interviews are expected to start as early as this week.
“It’s moving really quickly,” said Antoine. “We do trust the board, obviously, to make the decision that they think is best for the public.”
But, Antoine said a public disclosure may allow for a more thorough vetting.
“We err on the side of transparency,” she said. “So yeah, just like tell us who. At least provide their names.”
The state board is on a two-week timeline to name a new elections director.
Lamone has led the state elections agency since 1997. She announced her retirement in March. The board wants to hire a successor before Lamone leaves later this year — possibly by Sept. 1.
Lamone wrote an initial draft of a job description. The Maryland State Board of Elections refined that document before soliciting applicants.
William Voelp, chair of the state board, said Lamone would not review resumes nor participate in interviews.
The two-week application window closed Friday. There is more speculation about potential candidates than actual information.
Two state elections officials — Deputy Administrator of Elections Nikki Charlson and Jared DeMarinis, director of the candidacy and campaign finance division — are widely believed to be interested in succeeding Lamone.
It is not known if either applied.
Charlson did not respond to a request for comment. DeMarinis declined to comment.
Voelp also declined to comment on potential candidates for the position. Through a spokesperson, he declined to release even general information — a total number of applicants; the number of men and women who applied; the number of in-state and out-of-state applicants.
“Chairman Voelp is working to ensure impartiality, fairness and inclusion of the entire board in the selection process and has no comment at this time,” said Donna Duncan, a Maryland State Board of Elections spokesperson.
The question of whether to consider candidates from other states was a topic of board discussion earlier this month.
“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 [the job requirements],” Lamone advised the board during a meeting earlier this month. “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.”
The board decided during that meeting that applicants from other states would be considered.
“Obviously, we want someone who understands the current election processes in Maryland but of course, there are always improvements that could be brought from someplace else, if necessary,” said Nancy Soreng, president of the League of Women Voters of Maryland.
Antoine said a Maryland candidate is preferable but not required.
“I do think being from here, understanding not just the laws and rights that are in place, but what it actually looks like on Election Day and what folks are experiencing when they go to the polls, and obviously how things have shifted over the last few years” is important, Antoine said. “So, the preference would be someone from Maryland, but if not, maybe there’s that person who’s a unicorn in the room who just understands the way that our state runs really, really well.”
Organizations such as Common Cause and the League of Women Voters are not publicly supporting specific candidates. Instead, both groups said they have a general list of qualities they hope the next administrator brings to the job.
“I really just don’t feel comfortable going to in the weeds saying who my ideal election administrator would be,” said Soreng. “I’m comfortable saying what my ideal election system would be, and hopefully an administrator that will implement those things.”
Soreng said the state already benefits from expanded access to voting including mail-in, early voting and on Election Day, as well as same day voter registration. She also praised, in general, the consistent quality of how state elections are run.
“The one area that I think probably everyone is aware of that has been a problem and a concern was timely notification of the state board of elections’ meetings and timely release of documents,” said Soreng. “But through some legislation, and some pushback from the community, that has improved and we hope that that will continue.”
Antoine said she hopes a new administrator will do more to help persons with disabilities, those who are in mental health hospitals or people who are incarcerated exercise their rights. She and Soreng would also like to see more collaboration with local elections officials and greater community outreach.
“The administrator, at least during my term, has not been accessible whatsoever,” said Antoine. “It would be great to have someone…that you can reasonably reach, who is out in the community, who is at major elections, you know, related events and so forth.”
Dems tap Weissmann for elections board
The executive committee of the Maryland Democratic Party voted Tuesday to approve the nomination of Yaakov “Jake” Weissmann to the Maryland State Board of Elections.
The committee unanimously supported Weissmann, who was recommended by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County). The two presiding officers nominated him last week.
Weissmann currently serves as assistant chief administrative officer to Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, a position he has held for nearly two years. Prior to that he served as chief of staff to both Ferguson and the late Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., the longest serving Senate president in state history. He also was president of the Young Democrats of Maryland.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in social work and psychology from the University of Maryland Baltimore; a masters in social work from the University of Maryland School of Social Work; and a law degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law.
Weissmann’s nomination now heads to Gov. Wes Moore (D) for approval. Weissmann, who would be able to serve with Moore’s approval, would still require Senate confirmation next year.
This article was originally published on MarylandMatters.org and is republished with permission.