City elections chief quits in frustration

September 21, 2006|By John Fritze and Doug Donovan | John Fritze and Doug Donovan,Sun reporters

Gene M. Raynor, who has played a key role in Maryland elections for more than five decades, resigned yesterday as director of the Baltimore Board of Elections after major glitches turned an unknown number of voters away from the polls during last week's primary.

Raynor's departure, while celebrated by his political enemies, was the latest blow to the city Elections Board, which is still counting ballots cast Sept. 12 as it races to fix a host of systemic problems before the Nov. 7 general election.

Citing frustration with the Republican-led board that appointed him its director in January, Raynor began packing up his office yesterday and asked his secretary to deliver the three-paragraph resignation he said he wrote on Tuesday.

FOR THE RECORD - An article yesterday about the resignation of Gene M. Raynor, director of the Baltimore Board of Elections, incorrectly attributed a written statement to Mayor Martin O'Malley. The statement was from O'Malley's gubernatorial campaign manager, Josh White. The Sun regrets the error.

"I don't think it's fair to the citizens of Baltimore to have this kind of dissension in the office," said Raynor, 70, who first joined the city elections staff as an 18-year-old clerk. "I would like to see the election run very smoothly."

While it was not clear who will ultimately replace Raynor, the Elections Board's president, Armstead B. Crawley Jones Sr., said the board is in charge of day-to-day operations for now. As Raynor walked out of the office yesterday, staff members were counting more than 3,000 provisional ballots from residents who could not cast votes on the state's new touch-screen machines last week.

State elections law permits the local boards of elections, which are appointed by the governor, to select their directors. Jones said it is too soon to tell whether that appointment will be made before Nov. 7, but he pledged that Raynor's departure will not affect the board's commitment to conduct an efficient general election.

"We have a lot of competent people in this office, and I believe they know what has to be done," Jones said. "Right now, we'll just make sure that everything is moving."

Raynor's decision to leave came a day after both he and Jones appeared before the Democratic-controlled City Council to answer questions about what went wrong last week. Yesterday, Raynor said his resignation had nothing to do with that meeting but rather was spurred by his increased frustration with the board. He said its members never gave him authority to effectively supervise the election.

"I think the board was trying to hang me out to dry," Raynor said.

Several Democrats blamed Raynor for many of the problems that took place Sept. 12 - including a shortage of city election judges and a lack of communication between polling places and the central elections office. Others argued that Raynor was out of touch with modern, computer-driven elections.

The state Democratic Party labeled Raynor as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s "elections puppet" in a statement yesterday and said "his inability to manage a smooth primary election brought him under fire and unable to defend his performance."

Raynor, a longtime ally of Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, feuded frequently with Mayor Martin O'Malley and supported Ehrlich in the 2002 gubernatorial election. His appointment this year to the local election post drew criticism from Democrats who said his management might favor Ehrlich.

In 2004, Ehrlich brought Raynor out of retirement and appointed him to the State Board of Elections as part of a strategy to oust the state elections administrator, Linda H. Lamone, a Democrat. The effort failed, and Raynor applied for the city job. Jones, the board president, also applied for the job but was passed over.

Jones would not comment yesterday on whether he would apply for the position again.

The governor appoints members to the state's 24 local election boards based on lists of nominees provided to him by the two major political parties. Because a Republican controls the governor's office, Ehrlich appoints three Republicans and two Democrats to each board. The boards then vote to select their director.

Determining how much blame Raynor deserves for the primary's problems and how much rests with the board is difficult. State law gives the local elections directors responsibility for training judges and appointing staff. But Raynor said the board assumed control of those functions long before he arrived. Several former elections officials said it was unfair to condemn Raynor for the problems.

Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham, a former city Board of Elections member and now president of the NAACP's Baltimore branch, said the current board shares as much responsibility as - if not more than - Raynor.

"I think the board should step down," Cheatham said. "The five-member board that appointed [Raynor] has more to say about what goes on in the office then he does. ... But the board seems like it's been hiding."

Lamone asked Raynor to draft a 10-point plan by yesterday to address some of the election problems. Instead, he submitted a two-page letter that discussed the issues in the office and criticized both state elections officials and his own staff for the problems.

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