Ehrlich targets elections contract


Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. tried yesterday to block a service contract for the software that runs the state's elections as part of his campaign to take down a series of early-voting laws the legislature passed over his veto this year.

Elections officials said the contract, which was up for approval at the Board of Public Works, had nothing to do with the early voting and that rejecting it would have delivered a fatal blow to their efforts to hold an orderly vote in November.

After Ehrlich's budget secretary, Cecilia Januszkiewicz, argued against the governor's plan to reject it at yesterday's meeting, the board agreed to extend the contract for two weeks, when it would be up for approval again.

Ehrlich has promised a legal challenge against the early-voting bills, which he said are a partisan power grab by Democrats and "an open invitation to voter fraud." Under the plan, select precincts will be open for five days before the Sept. 12 primary election and Nov. 7 general election.

Members of Ehrlich's campaign and the Republican Party are gathering signatures to allow voters to overturn the laws at the ballot box. Yesterday's actions showed that Ehrlich plans to open a third front in his assault on the laws by using his power on the Board of Public Works, which must approve all state contracts.

"Since I don't have the votes downstairs to sustain these vetoes, I'm going to use whatever leverage I have in this forum because it's the franchise we're talking about here," Ehrlich said. "We're going to go to court, we're going to go to referendum. We're going to have a big debate about all these phony reforms."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the governor is acting out of frustration because he trails in the polls against either of the Democratic candidates.

Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone said the contract Ehrlich targeted yesterday has nothing to do with early voting. Instead, it is a service contract with a firm that has been working with the state for five years on software that runs all aspects of elections administration, she said.

"It is the backbone of election management in Maryland," Lamone said. "If we lose this contractor, we're in trouble."

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said in an e-mail that holding up the contract yesterday was necessary to bring Lamone back before the Board of Public Works to explain her request for an emergency procurement of an electronic system the state is buying to help administer early voting.

The system has not been certified, but under the new laws, Lamone could spend as much as $13 million on it without oversight, Fawell said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.