A Republican nominee for a vacant state elections board seat told senators interviewing her for the post that she was at home cleaning her fish tank on Jan. 6, 2021.

Former Howard County elections board member Diane Butler said she remembered this because she had just gotten back from a trip to Florida and the tank had gotten dirty while she was away.

Maryland senators on the Executive Nominations Committee have started asking candidates up for seats with authority over state elections where they were on the day an angry mob breached the U.S. Capitol. They’re asking because last year they gave a seat on the board to a Salisbury man who federal authorities say was there and is now facing criminal charges.

Carlos Ayala resigned from the position after the FBI charged him with civil disorder, a felony, and multiple misdemeanor offenses in connection to the breach of the building while Congress was certifying the 2020 presidential election results.

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Butler answered that question and others connected to her opinions about state and national elections, mail-in ballots and whether she made a Facebook post comparing COVID masking guidance to arm bands Nazis forced Jewish people to wear leading up to World War II.

Butler served on her local elections board for eight years, according to her LinkedIn page, including during the 2020 presidential election. She told senators she did not believe fraud or interference played a role in Maryland elections or national elections and that mail-in ballot elections can be collected successfully.

Committee Vice Chair Sen. Clarence Lam asked Butler a series of specific follow-up questions. First he asked about a May 18, 2021 letter he said a State Board of Elections official gave him where she expressed concerns about the 2020 presidential elections.

She explained that the mail-in ballot process was forced on the board during the pandemic. The ballot chain of custody became “sloppy” during the count and forced a top election official to pause the process and review the local election board’s procedure — a step she felt was important to keep the process “as tight as we can.”

“It’s important for the citizens to trust everything,” she said.

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The ballot counting reset did not make Butler question the election results, she said, because the state audits revealed positive results. She justified her letter to the state board.

“I think if we don’t have that conversation then we never get any better, we should always be striving to be the best that we can,” she said.

Lam asked about a social media post purportedly made by Butler. The post contained a comparison between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention masking guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic to Nazi armbands.

At first she said she didn’t recall making the post, but then said “it could have been mine.”

“I think we all had to go through a tremendous amount of learning curves on how we were going to deal with a pandemic,” she explained.

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After the hearing, Butler declined to comment on the senators’ questions or her responses.

“I want to see how the deliberation process plays out,” she said. The committee will vote on her nomination at a later meeting.

Ayala’s confirmation called into question the multistep vetting process used by the state.

Last year, the governor’s office and lawmakers rejected two Republican names submitted to Moore by the Maryland GOP. But during Ayala’s hearing, senators on the nominating committee didn’t ask him any questions.

A federal investigation into Ayala’s participation in the insurrection alleged that Ayala, wearing a hooded American flag sweatshirt, was seen on footage from the day climbing over police barricades and reaching the Upper West Terrace of the Capitol building.

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But these details would not have come up during the background searches conducted by the Maryland Senate and the governor’s office.

That leaves senators to ask direct questions of candidates, which they’ve also done in two recent hearings for a Democratic election board nominee and the state administrator of elections.

Last week, the Senate committee reviewed the candidacy of Jared DeMarinis for state elections board administrator.

Lam asserted he was confident in DeMarinis’ ability to serve in the role but did have to ask election-related questions and where he was on Jan. 6, 2021.

DeMarinis told the committee he was at home watching the news footage of the Capitol breach in “horror and dismay.” He said he had confidence in state and national elections.

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Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, who also sits on the nominations committee, said that through working with DeMarinis on campaign finance measures he called him “one of the most dedicated public servants we have” and seconded the nomination.

Jake Weissmann, a Democratic nominee for a state elections board seat and who also served as Ferguson’s chief of staff, answered the same line of questioning as DeMarinis about a month ago.

Correction: This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Jake Weissmann’s surname.

Brenda Wintrode covers state government, agencies and politics. Before joining The Baltimore Banner, Wintrode wrote an award winning series of long form investigations for Wisconsin Watch.

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