Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) does not often turn over the reins of the floor session to the Senate pro tem.
But he did just that on Wednesday, leaving the rostrum and sitting in one of the floor seats in order to speak out against a bill that would change how the state oversees international election observers.
Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery), who sponsored the legislation, said it was designed to increase election security by ensuring the state Board of Elections handles the process for allowing international observers, rather than having local boards do it and then information to the state.
Maryland Republicans have been hammering the proposal, saying it could be seen as a way of encouraging more international observers at a time when special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is probing alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections.
One Republican senator said the measure would make Maryland “a laughingstock” if it were passed.
“Do you think foreign nationals should be openly invited into our polling places on election day?,” said the state Republican Party, which has launched a petition calling for the bill’s defeat. “For all the complaints about potential foreign involvement in U.S. elections, Maryland Democrats sure are trying to invite outside influences into our elections.”
After reading a portion of a recent Washington Post op-ed about Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians over their alleged efforts to elect President Trump, Miller said the timing was not right for the measure.
“It may have been a good bill six years ago, four years ago or even two weeks ago,” the Senate president said. “I don’t want these people in the room.”
Kagan said she was shocked that a measure aimed at boosting security is “somehow accused of weakening our security. . .”
“We have been welcoming international observers for over a decade,” she said, noting that the Senate’s rejection of the bill does not stop the program. “One of the reasons we do this is to educate leaders from other countries about democracy.”
She said she has decided to ask the State Board of Elections to address the change.
Miller thanked Kagan for her efforts but called for moving the bill back to committee, “not to rise again in the near future.”
Election administrator Linda H. Lamone sent a letter saying the state board will continue “to verify the legitimacy of anyone seeking entrance to a polling place anywhere in the state of Maryland. . . Maryland will continue to abide by our international treaty commitments without ever endangering the safety and security of our election process.”