State board gives local election officials 12% pay raise

By Glynis Kazanjian

Maryland State Board of ElectionsThe State Board of Elections voted unanimously Thursday to give county election directors and their deputies a 12% salary increase.

In a 4-0 vote, the board voted to make the raises effective March 1, instead of being retroactive to July 2013, which State Election Administrator Linda Lamone originally requested. Local election officials have not received a pay raise in 14 years.

The current pay ranges from a low of $41,000 in Dorchester County to a high of $138,000 in Montgomery County.

The board also took no formal action to rein in Lamone’s authority, as some board members had proposed earlier this month.

Some counties may reject raises

Only two counties out of 19 – Wicomico and Somerset – that are part of the state personnel system indicated they may reject the pay hikes.

A report issued at the state board meeting indicated Wicomico flatly rejected the pay raise and Somerset thinks “they can approve or deny” pay for this fiscal year.

However, a law passed in 2000 gives the state elections board full authority to set the local salaries, even though the counties have to fund them, state officials said.

“The vast majority have funds available,” Deputy State Election Administrator Nikki Charlson told board members.

Linda Lamone

Linda Lamone

Lamone originally requested the pay raises in December through an email sent directly to board members. But some board members asked that the matter be held until the next open meeting, scheduled for January.

In January, board members tabled the vote again until staff could show that all localities could handle the budget increases. Written confirmation was submitted to board members at Thursday’s meeting.

Board asks Lamone for more information, input

After Lamone issued a controversial fundraising guideline in December without the board’s knowledge  that gave the gubernatorial campaign of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown a potential fundraising edge, board members are beginning to show reluctance to rubber stamp Lamone’s work without more information.

The board had given Lamone authority to issue campaign finance guidelines, which have always included guidance from the Office of the Attorney General. But in December, she asked the attorney general’s office to recuse itself and used no legal guidance to form the fundraising guidelines.

Earlier this month, some board members said Thursday’s meeting would result in Lamone losing some of her authority to act independently on campaign finance matters. On Thursday the board chair gave Lamone only a verbal request for more input.

“We would really appreciate having information a little earlier than what we are getting,” State Elections Board President Bobbie Mack told Lamone. “We would like to be made aware of anything you think is going to raise some attention. Add us on the emails. Keep us moving forward. I don’t want to see us micromanage the office, but I do want to see us informed, so when we’re asked questions about what’s happening on the board – where we provide oversight – we can at least have some idea of what’s going on.”

CORRECTED 2/28/2014, 9:15 a.m.: State board of elections board member Patrick Murray resigned his position last week before filing to run for the House of Delegates in Harford County. The board currently only has four members – two Democrats and two Republicans.

Leveling the playing field on salaries

Lamone said increasing local salaries would also put local election officials on a level playing field with other county election staff who are not part of the state personnel system. Four counties – Allegany, Calvert, Montgomery and Prince Georges are not in the state’s personnel system.

Since 2010, local election officials have implemented early voting, conformed to new federal military and overseas absentee voting election law and have taken on additional responsibilities associated with a new national voter registration database consortium Maryland joined in 2012.

Montgomery County’s election director earned $138,000 in 2013 compared to Baltimore City election director, who makes $79,000 annually and Anne Arundel County election director, who makes  $76,000. Howard County’s director earns $61,000.

With a 12% increase,  Baltimore City’s election director will bump up to $91,000, Anne Arundel’s to $86,000, and Howard County’s to $68,000.

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