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Senator Seeks to Ease Elections Bill 'Uproar'

Legislation Would Abolish Md. Board

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 19, 2005; Page B05

The lead Democratic sponsor of a bill that would shift control of Maryland's elections machinery said yesterday that she will work with a Republican leader to address his party's outrage over the legislation.

"I understand it has caused a little bit of an uproar," Sen. Paula C. Hollinger (D-Baltimore County) said of her bill, which would abolish the Republican-controlled State Board of Elections and replace it with two entities far friendlier to Democrats.

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Hollinger, speaking at a Senate hearing, said she will work with Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus (R-Somerset) to come up with a bill that "can be fair to everybody."

The bill, sponsored by all 33 Democrats in the Maryland Senate, would abolish the five-member elections board, which consists of three members of the governor's party and two from the opposing party, all appointed by the governor.

In its place, the bill would create a 12-member advisory panel, eight of whom would be appointed by the state elections administrator and the remaining four named by the Senate president and House speaker. In addition, the bill calls for a commission of seven existing officeholders responsible for hiring and firing the administrator. If created today, only one of those seven slots, reserved for the secretary of state, would be occupied by a Republican.

Sen. Andrew P. Harris (R-Baltimore County) told Hollinger that the bill amounted to an attempt "to Soviet-ize the Maryland election process."

Hollinger defended the legislation, saying the board has been "totally politicized" under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

Hollinger's bill was crafted in response to an attempt in the fall by the elections board to oust the state's elections administrator, a Democrat. The board gained the votes to oust the administrator after Ehrlich appointed one of his Democratic supporters to a slot on the board reserved for a Democrat. A judge later halted the effort.

Yesterday's hearing grew heated at times, with Hollinger at one point urging Harris to calm down. "This isn't a boxing match," she told him.

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