Senate President Bill Ferguson said senators will likely ask tougher questions of people nominated to serve as election officials.
The comments come in the wake of Maryland State Board of Elections member Carlos Ayala being charged in federal court in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021 attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Ayala resigned from one of two seats reserved for Republicans on the five-member board following his arrest.
When Ayala went before the Senate Executive Nominations Committee last year, not a single senator asked him any questions about his experience or thoughts about the role.
“In hindsight, do I wish that I could have gone back in time and asked: ‘Did you participate in the January 6th insurrection?’ Of course,” Ferguson told reporters this week.
But Ferguson noted that the Democratic-led Senate had already turned down one Republican nominee for the elections board who had little experience or knowledge of elections.
“I think there was a hesitation from a Democratic majority to seek to block our minority party’s nominees to the board of elections unless it were very clear that it would be a problem,” Ferguson said. “If there had been any hint of any participation in January 6th, there is no question in my mind, that would have been a non-starter.”
Ferguson said that perhaps sharper questioning is in order for future election board nominees.
“I think moving forward we will ask any member if they believe in democracy, if they believe that prior elections, Maryland elections are fair and that people can trust them at the state and federal level,” he said.
Later in the week, Sen. Antonio Hayes, the new chair of the Executive Nominations Committee, also said that elections board members will need greater scrutiny.
“Given the latest news,” Hayes said, committee members “are going to be probably probing a little bit more.”
The Baltimore Democrat added that “behind the scenes, we’re doing the due diligence and work to try to make sure that the nominees are representative of the ideals and non-biases as public officials serving in our state.”
Maryland Republican Party Executive Director Adam Wood said that party leadership is in the process of vetting potential nominees.
The Maryland State Board of Elections has five members: Three from the same party as the governor and two from the minority party. The two main political parties recommend members, who are vetted by the governor’s office and then sent to the Senate for confirmation hearings and a vote.
The state elections board is responsible for the logistics and administrative decisions in executing elections, from determining where elections can be held to the process for counting ballots. They’re responsible for the security of electronic voting machines, distributing and securing drop boxes and certifying Maryland’s results.
With Ayala’s resignation, the Maryland Republican Party must now offer candidates for both Republican positions on the board. Ferguson said he expects the nominations will be sent to the Senate by Feb. 19, when the governor traditionally delivers a big batch of nominations known as “green bag” appointments.