- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 7, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s chief elections administrator returned to work yesterday minutes after a judge signed an order temporarily overturning her suspension by the State Board of Elections.

Linda Lamone walked from the Anne Arundel County Courthouse to the nearby elections board office, where she was greeted with hugs and tears by some of her staff.

“Obviously, I’m happy to be back at work. There’s a lot to get done between now and the election,” she said.

A hearing was scheduled for Friday on a request from Mrs. Lamone’s attorneys that she remain in office while the election board pursues its attempt to fire her.

An order signed by Judge Ronald A. Silkworth and agreed to by attorneys for Mrs. Lamone and the state leaves the administration of the board in doubt less than two months before the November election. Marylanders will vote for president and members of Congress in the second election in which all voters will use touch-screen voting machines.

Mrs. Lamone, who has been the administrator of election laws for seven years, oversaw the purchase of the Diebold AccuVote-TS touch-screen machines and has defended the machines against criticism from opponents who say it is vulnerable to fraud.

The election board voted Thursday to suspend Mrs. Lamone and appointed Robin Downs Colbert of Prince George’s County as acting administrator.

Board members would not discuss the reasons for their attempt to fire her, including whether it was related to her handling of the electronic voting machines.

Gilles Burger, chairman of the board, said after yesterday’s brief circuit court hearing that Miss Colbert will remain as acting administrator. Asked who would be in charge until the next hearing Friday, he refused to answer.

Mrs. Lamone’s attorney, Jay Holland, said Mrs. Lamone clearly will be in charge.

The judge’s order also seemed clear, saying she will “continue to perform the duties of administrator of elections.” It said the board may not “suspend Ms. Lamone, place her on administrative leave or interfere with [her] access to her office and the staff of the State Board of Elections.”

When the Republican-dominated board suspended Mrs. Lamone, Mr. Burger said it acted after receiving “several complaints from multiple sources, including several local boards of election” about Mrs. Lamone’s performance as head of the state election system.

Democratic leaders have criticized the attempt to oust Mrs. Lamone as a political move so Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. can bring in a Republican to run the elections office.

U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said Mrs. Lamone has been “a strong nonpartisan voice for voter rights and improved elections” in Maryland.

“It is unbelievable that the board would put our election system at risk by taking this unjustified action on the eve of one of our nation’s most important elections,” he said.

But Mr. Burger said when he announced the suspension Friday that politics had nothing to do with the decision.

Asked if Mrs. Lamone had favored one political party over another, he replied that she had not.

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