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Maryland Elections Chief Ousted

The Maryland State Board of Elections (search) moved Friday to oust state elections administrator Linda H. Lamone, a decision she immediately battled in court.

After a marathon, closed-door session Thursday, the board filed charges to remove Lamone for "incompetence, misconduct or other good cause."

But Lamone defended her office, which has been under fire for buying touch-screen voting machines (search) that many have criticized as vulnerable to hacking and other security breaches.

"I inherited an office that was in shambles," she said in a prepared statement from the Anne Arundel County courthouse where she asked judges to temporarily stop the board's order, "and my staff and I have built it into one of the best in the nation."

Lamone and her attorney, Timothy F. Maloney, met with Circuit Court Judge Joseph P. Manck at 4:15 p.m. Friday and were granted a hearing to discuss putting a hold, called a temporary restraining order, on the election board's decision. Maloney said a hearing on the matter is scheduled at 9.a.m Tuesday.

"The order to suspend Lamone is patently unlawful," Maloney said.

Robin Downs Colbert was named acting state elections administrator.

"I'm honored and grateful for what I can do for the state," Colbert said. "As far as my being appointed and my being named, I had not a clue. I was completely surprised."

Elections Board Chairman Gilles W. Burger said Colbert has worked in the elections administration for 25 years. She resigned Friday as director for Prince George's County Board of Elections to take the state administrator's job.

The board's decision comes after much speculation that Lamone was on her way out, and that the move was political. However, Burger denied there was any partisanship at play.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," he said, later adding "this has nothing to do with partisan politics, and the charges and rumors are in our view nonsense."

Burger also refuted claims that Gov. Robert Ehrlich's (search) office was behind Lamone's ouster, saying he had not spoken with that office since he was notified in August that Gene Raynor would be joining the Board of Elections.

Shareese DeLeaver, a press secretary for Gov. Ehrlich, also says that his office was in no way involved.

"Board business is just that - board business," DeLeaver said.

State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, is not so sure, citing what he calls "storm-trooper-type tactics."

"It's disturbing to say the least," Miller said of what he sees as a relationship between the board's decision and the governor's office. "Robin Downs Colbert is a capable administrator, but she is between a rock and a hard place. She's a Democrat who's worked for four Republican judges. If she doesn't take the job she'll be fired.

"She's being used as a political pawn." Miller said the move "sends a very chilling message" to the state's voters who feel insecure about their voting rights since presidential recounts in Florida in 2000 and questions about Maryland's new touch-screen voting machines.

"Now with the right wing in charge of all the voting machinery there is great cause for concern," Miller said.

Miller and House of Delegates Democratic Speaker Michael E. Busch released a joint statement criticizing the removal of Lamone, saying the decision appears "to have intentionally violated the law and the General Assembly will begin an immediate review of the board's actions and take necessary steps to restore the independence of the state's election office."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.