At the Center of the Election Maelstrom

By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 22, 2006

In front of 10 television cameras in the elegant State House reception room, the tough-minded lawyer who controls Maryland's election apparatus and the governor who has tried to have her fired engaged in a civilized exchange about how to ensure that last week's mistakes are not repeated.

But even after the cameras were shut off, the spotlight remained on elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone.

An aide to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) circulated an excerpt of Lamone's comments from a legislative hearing in Virginia. Aides to a Republican state senator handed reporters DVDs of the testimony in which Lamone says: "In Maryland, the authority to run elections is centralized. I am the boss. The buck stops with me. I'm the one who gets in trouble when anything happens."

Lamone has long been a controversial figure in the debate over how Maryland voters should cast ballots. As a fierce defender of the electronic voting machines she helped usher into every precinct in the state, Lamone has drawn fire from activists who want to return to paper ballots. And as a holdover from a Democratic administration, she has angered Republicans who want control of the state's elections in a year with competitive contests for U.S. Senate and governor.

"It's difficult to have potshots taken at you all the time," Lamone said yesterday. But, she added, "I always like a challenge."

She said she seeks solace from a loyal cadre of aides who have been with her in the trenches; her husband, a former dean of the University of Maryland's business school; and her two cats.

That the 64-year-old lawyer has held on doesn't surprise one of her first bosses in the attorney general's legislative office in Annapolis.

"Linda is fairly headstrong; she's no shrinking violet -- and I mean that in a positive way," said Baltimore lawyer George Nilson, a former deputy attorney general who overlapped with Lamone in the 1970s. "She's been appropriately persistent and appropriately tough in dealing with the things swirling around."

"She believes the job shouldn't be subject to political changes, and my belief is she has stayed put in part to make that point," Nilson added.

To Lamone's critics, the steadfastness she's shown in defending the Diebold Election Systems machines has become a weakness. Since 2002, the state has committed to paying $106 million for the electronic voting systems.

"Her intransigence is what causes her some of her biggest challenges," said former delegate Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery), an advocate of a paper-based system who was one of the first lawmakers to raise questions about the security of the electronic machines. "She can never admit an error, and she doesn't show a willingness to be open-minded, to change for any reason, despite all evidence pointing to the need for changes and improvements."

Kagan and Kevin Zeese, another advocate of paper ballots and an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate, have called for Lamone's resignation. "She should resign, as her performance has been outrageous," Zeese said yesterday.

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