- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vetoed an election laws bill yesterday that has been at the heart of a fierce political battle between Democrats and Republicans, and Democratic leaders made plans to enact the bill into law over the governor’s objections.

The bill would allow the state central committee for the political party that is out of power, currently the Democratic Party, to choose the two minority members on the five-member board that oversees state elections. It also would make it harder for the board to fire the state administrator of election laws, who runs the day-to-day operations of the state board.

The governor, who currently appoints all five members, would continue to choose the three members from the majority party.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. planned to hold a vote today on whether to override the veto.

“I think the votes will be there in the Senate [to override the veto],” he said. “I don’t know about the House.” But the bill passed the House with a veto-proof majority on a 90-42 roll call, five votes more than the number needed for an override.

Republicans fought the bill in the House and Senate, delaying it as long as they could, but could not overcome the Democratic majorities in both houses.

Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Somerset Republican, said yesterday that there is not much Republicans can do when the bill comes back for a final vote, and “it’s going to probably be overridden.”

The bill is the result of a long battle between the governor and Democratic leaders over Mr. Ehrlich’s attempts to get rid of Linda H. Lamone, who had been the administrator for seven years when the election board tried to fire her in September.

Three Republican members of the board were joined by Gene Raynor, a Democrat and former administrator, who Democrats charged was put on the board by Mr. Ehrlich over their objections because he would be willing to vote to replace Mrs. Lamone.

Mrs. Lamone successfully defended her job in court and is still running the board. The dispute between the governor and Democratic leaders has continued, and both Democratic spots on the board are currently vacant.

Mr. Stoltzfus called the bill “an incredible power grab by Democrats.”

“This is an indication in my mind of how desperate they are to get back the powers that were formerly the prerogative of the governor,” he said.

But Mr. Miller said the governor and Republicans had engaged in “raw partisan politics … to oust a nonpartisan administrator.”

The legislation “is an important bill to all people who believe in fair elections,” he said.

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