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Maryland Lt. Gov. Rutherford calls on state board of elections administrator to resign after mail-in primary problems

Board of Public Works meeting where Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford calls on Linda Lamone to resign as the state’s election director.

Maryland’s second-in-command called on the state’s elections director to resign Wednesday, citing problems with the ways ballots have been delivered and returns have been counted in two largely mail-in contests conducted during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford, a Republican who serves under Gov. Larry Hogan, said at the opening of an online meeting of the Board of Public Works that the state should seek “new leadership” to head the Maryland State Board of Elections.

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“I really think it’s time for the administrator at the Board of Elections to step down," he said.

The rebuke follows the disappearance of as many as 75,000 counted ballots from the state’s website early Wednesday morning. Those votes, sent in by mail and collected from drop boxes through the weekend, appeared on the site at about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. At about 2 a.m., the city’s early returns were not available on the state site and instead were marked as “NR” for not reported.

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Revised numbers appeared on the state website just around 11 a.m. Wednesday, including only some of the 75,000 votes reported the day before.

Other issues surfaced in the run-up to Maryland’s April 28 special congressional election in District 7 and prior to the regular June 2 primary. Special election ballots contained inaccurate postage instructions; Ballots for the June primary were delivered weeks later than expected to voters in Baltimore and Montgomery County; Some households received multiple ballots; Long lines at the state’s limited in-person polling places held up vote return data until the late hours of Tuesday evening and sparked renewed concerns about social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rutherford said the voting and ballot problems, especially in Baltimore, are “just another example of the challenges that have been occurring with the state Board of Elections.”

Baltimore, a majority black city, already faces unequal access to the ballot, voting rights groups say. A largely mail-in election presents a host of problems for people with disabilities, those without housing and people temporarily displaced by the spreading COVID-19 outbreak.

Rutherford said he hoped Linda Lamone would resign with enough time “to correct all of these issues” before November’s general election.

Per state law, the state administrator of elections — appointed by the State Board and confirmed by the state Senate — is subject to removal by the vote of four confirmed members of the State Board for “incompetence, misconduct, or other good cause.”

The State Board must first present a written account that states the grounds for dismissal and “afford the State Administrator notice and an ample opportunity to be heard.” If the administrator is removed, the official is authorized to continue to serve until a successor is appointed and confirmed by the Maryland Senate, according to state election law.

Lamone, who has served in the role since 1997, said Wednesday that this election cycle presented “some unanticipated challenges,” such as those brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and the unrest that ensued across the state following the death of George Floyd in the hands of police in Minnesota.

Baltimore City Council President and Democratic mayoral candidate Brandon Scott speaks outside the Board of Elections on Wednesday, June 3, 2020.

“This election indeed presented some ... unprecedented challenges with the virus and having to plan for the election in the middle of the health situation and the fact that people were basically confined to their homes for weeks at a time,” she said. "Then we had the horrible situation with George Floyd getting killed, murdered and then the protests that followed that. I think it was a tragedy about him. It really motivated a lot of people to get involved in the democratic process, which was a good thing.”

Some city ballot drop box locations were closed and moved elsewhere on Monday, the eve of the election, as thousands took to Baltimore’s streets to protest Floyd’s killing and the disproportionate deaths of black men and women in police custody. Many voters at the polls Tuesday said they never received ballots at all.

Lamone, a salaried employee of the state, earns $137,000 a year in her position. She did not directly address the calls for her resignation.

"As I said before, I’m really proud of the way everybody pitched in and helped and tried to make everything work as best it could,” she said.

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On Wednesday, Comptroller Peter Franchot said he was hesitant to ask anyone to resign, “but I think it’s time for some retirements and new leadership.”

Franchot, a Democrat, addressed Lamone directly as she called into an online meeting of the Board of Public Works.

“As competent as you are, Linda, and your staff reverse you, there’s something going on over there that is completely unacceptable,” he said.

Franchot also suggested perhaps Baltimore’s elections director, Armstead Jones, also should consider resigning.

The board issued a statement Wednesday morning, prior to Lamone’s remarks, saying it discovered a small proofing error in the ballot title for the Democratic contest for Council District 1.

“The State Board of Elections is working to assess if vote by mail ballots outside of District 1 were impacted, but is not aware of any other inconsistencies at this time," according to the statement. "It appears that the impacted contests are Council District 1 and judge of the Circuit Court.”

Both Democratic candidates in the District 1 City Council race, incumbent Zeke Cohen and challenger Paris Bienert, contested Tuesday’s preliminary returns, which showed Bienert with 98% of the vote to Cohen’s 2%. When the returns appeared back on the state website Wednesday, Cohen had 79 reported in-person votes to Bienert’s 33.

This article will be updated.

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