ACCORDING TO state law, Maryland State Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone can be removed from her job only for "incompetence, misconduct or other good cause." The law, passed in 1998, is intended to insulate the administrator, and the management of elections, from the bump and grind of partisan politics. But now Ms. Lamone, who has managed elections in the state since 1997, is the target of what by all appearances is a putsch by the Republican-led State Board of Elections. Board members are appointed by the governor, and Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. wants Ms. Lamone out.
Despite taking the nearly Kafkaesque step of having Ms. Lamone investigated by a veteran agent of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which usually confines itself to probing abuses by prison employees, the elections board hasn't found much to accuse her of. There are no criminal allegations; her main sin, it seems, is that she has been crabby at times in her relations with the board. On one occasion, according to the board's complaint, Ms. Lamone was guilty of a scheduling conflict, choosing to testify before Congress rather than appear before the board. Compounding the damage, she testily informed the board that she "alone" will determine how to do her job. On another occasion, it took her six weeks to promulgate written guidelines for local election officials on how to deal with voters who refused to use the state's electronic voting machines. Most damning, apparently, was that Ms. Lamone complained to a job applicant that the governor was "out to get" her. So she's crabby, and she tells the truth.
For that, the board suspended Ms. Lamone this month and replaced her with an acting administrator. She went to court, arguing that her removal threatened the smooth functioning of the balloting on Nov. 2. On Monday a circuit court judge in Anne Arundel County, Ronald A. Silkworth, agreed, lifting Ms. Lamone's suspension and saying her removal now could plunge the elections into "chaos."
Still, that's not the last word from the elections board, which consists of three Republicans and one Democrat who backs Mr. Ehrlich. (The fifth member, a Democrat, resigned because of ill health.) A hearing is scheduled for next month in which Ms. Lamone will, in effect, be put on trial, complete with witnesses, testimony and cross-examination before a judge from the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings, an independent agency. The judge will then submit "findings of fact" to the elections board -- which clearly has already made up its mind to fire Ms. Lamone. Before it gets that far, Mr. Ehrlich should reconsider whether he really wants to intensify suspicions, ahead of what could be a tough reelection fight in 2006, that he is determined to politicize the management of elections in Maryland.