- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — A judge yesterday ruled that state Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone can keep her job at least until next year, noting her removal now could throw the November election into “chaos.”

Anne Arundel Circuit Court Judge Ronald A. Silkworth ruled in favor of Mrs. Lamone’s request for a preliminary injunction blocking the Maryland Board of Elections’ decision to place her on paid administrative leave. Mrs. Lamone, the state’s top elections official, can keep working while she fights the attempt to fire her.

“Her removal would potentially throw the legality of the upcoming election into serious question,” Judge Silkworth said. He said keeping Mrs. Lamone in her job and maintaining the “status quo” is “clearly in the public interest.”

The judge alluded to the 2000 presidential election, noting that everyone “remembers the chaos and problems in Florida … this would only cause further confusion.”

Mrs. Lamone, a Democrat, still must face a hearing on the merits of the board’s order, but that has been postponed until August. The Republican-dominated board, appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., has wanted to remove her since 2003. However, no charges against her have been publicly released.

“I’m pleased with the outcome,” Mrs. Lamone said outside the courtroom yesterday. “I’m looking forward to getting back to work.”

Mrs. Lamone immediately went back inside the courthouse to attend an appeal by independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who failed to qualify for the Maryland ballot.

Judge Silkworth cited the Nader appeal and the tight presidential race as reasons for allowing Mrs. Lamone to keep her job.

She still faces a hearing before a state committee next month, though her attorney Timothy F. Maloney said there are “substantial legal issues as to whether [the hearing] is appropriate.”

Mr. Maloney said the judge had “restored the legal integrity” of the Nov. 2 election.

Judge Silkworth said there was clear legislative intent to keep the position nonpolitical, because the office “should inspire public confidence and trust.”

He criticized the Board of Elections for not giving Mrs. Lamone written notice of the charges against her or an opportunity to respond before they ordered her to leave.

The state presented no evidence that allowing Mrs. Lamone to remain in office would be a threat to the integrity of the election, but “there are serious threats if Miss Lamone is removed,” Judge Silkworth decided.

Gilles Burger, chairman of the state board, said it will go ahead with plans to fire Mrs. Lamone despite the ruling. He said allowing her to continue working may prove a distraction to the elections staff at a time when it needs to concentrate on final plans for the general election.

Mrs. Lamone was hired in 1997 during the Democratic administration of Gov. Parris N. Glendening and was reappointed to an indefinite term by the Board of Elections in 1999.

Maryland law says an election administrator can be removed only for “incompetence, misconduct or other good cause.” Judge Silkworth said the state attorneys for the board failed to prove any of those.

The Washington Post reported Friday about a confidential complaint that Mrs. Lamone ignored the Board of Elections’ orders and that she told a job candidate that Mr. Ehrlich was “out to get” her.

Mrs. Lamone has been a staunch defender of the electronic-voting machines, countering critics who say the devices are subject to fraud. Mrs. Lamone said the machines are safe and reliable.

However, U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, had trouble operating the new machines this weekend.

During a demonstration at the Takoma Park Folk Festival on Sunday, Miss Mikulski apparently inadvertently brushed against the sensitive screens so that when she tried to vote “no” on a sample ballot, the machine displayed her vote as a “yes.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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