Gov. Parris N. Glendening's recent decision to start fresh in appointing a new state election board marked a positive step toward modernizing Maryland's troubled and poorly coordinated local election operations.
Not only did the governor give the new panel a chance to start with a fresh slate, but he chose wisely in filling the five slots with quality nominees, especially former Del. Helen L. Koss of Montgomery County, who helped write much of the state election code and is an acknowledged expert on this complex process.
The group is loaded with individuals who have legal and government expertise. That should come in handy. This new board probably won't take untenable legal positions, as did the prior board when it tried to enforce a state law that had been nullified Jan. 1 by new state and federal statutes. The old board's argument was cut to ribbons in the circuit court and the Court of Appeals.
Governor Glendening said the new panel will be charged with strengthening the absentee ballot process, coming up with uniform training procedures for election workers throughout Maryland and restoring integrity to the election system. The flaws exposed in last year's November election must be corrected -- and quickly.
Republican complaints about the clean sweep of the old board and the new nominees are without merit. No Democratic governor has ever ceded appointment power to the state Republican Party. And vice versa. As it was, Mr. Glendening chose two Republicans with strong legal backgrounds. One of them, Linda B. "Lu" Pierson, has been active in city Republican politics and was recommended by city GOP leaders and then by John A. Cade, the Senate minority leader. She was a mainstay of the city election board and is intimately aware of changes that must be made to assure that there will be no foul-ups when municipal elections are held in Baltimore this fall.
In addition to safeguarding the upcoming city elections, the new board must complete statewide changes well in advance of the Maryland presidential primary next March. That doesn't leave much time, but immediate steps can be taken to bolster the integrity of the balloting process while paving the way for longer-term modernizations.
Voting is a fundamental aspect of democracy. It cannot be compromised. Last year's voting controversies indicate that the present set-up in Maryland needs to be updated both to assure a swift and accurate ballot count and to give all voters full confidence in the state's electoral process.