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Government & Politics

After dust-up over governor’s letter, Maryland Republican Party will find new nominee for State Board of Elections

The Maryland State Board of Elections office in Annapolis. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The leader of the state Republican Party said she will offer up a new nomination to fill a spot on the Maryland State Board of Elections but criticized Gov. Wes Moore (D) for “sneaky, hyper-partisan attacks.”

The response comes after Moore informed Republican Chair Nicole Beus Harris that he was rejecting the party’s nominee for the state board because of concerns about William Newton’s published criticisms of the state elections process and an embezzlement conviction. Harris, in a statement issued late Wednesday defended Newton as a “qualified nominee” while not addressing issues concerning the embezzlement charge.

Harris took issue with a copy of Moore’s rejection letter that had been provided to Maryland Matters.

“When I read the news report regarding the governor’s rejection of our qualified nominee, I was confused because the language quoted in that article was not in the letter sent to me by email by Governor Moore,” Harris said in her statement.

“The letter quoted in the news was noticeably more partisan, inaccurate in its accusations and used incendiary language,” Harris said. “Furthermore, it was dated one day before the entirely different letter sent to me by email. The reasons for this is clear — The governor is more interested in sneaky, hyper-partisan attacks than he is in ensuring that our elections are free and fair. His actions erode confidence in our democracy, which depends on checks and balances.”

The two letters differ with the version that reached Harris referencing only Newton’s election criticisms and “other reasons” for disqualification. The copy initially provided to Maryland Matters elaborated on those reasons, including that Newton did not meet “internal vetting standards due to his previous conviction for a crime of moral turpitude.”

A spokesperson for Moore said the letter provided to Maryland Matters was an early draft. A subsequent final draft sent to Harris deleted the reference to crimes of moral turpitude. The spokesman said that language was covered in the reference to “other reasons.”

The spokesman declined to respond to Harris’ statement.

Newton pleaded guilty in 2019 to misdemeanor embezzlement in Baltimore County Circuit Court in 2019.

The plea resolved a 2017 charge. Newton at the time was one of a number of family caretakers for his mother, Virginia Lee Amato, who was diagnosed with dementia. At the time, Amato’s home was determined to be unfit for human habitation. Newton was accused of using his power of attorney to transfer the home to his girlfriend for $1, according to court records.

The transfer triggered both civil and criminal cases in Baltimore County.

Newton was sentenced to five years probation before judgment. As a condition, he was ordered to repay the Trust of Virginia Lee Amato $16,495 in monthly installments of at least $100.

Nothing in the statement directly addresses Newton’s conviction and party officials declined to discuss the vetting process. Republican lawmakers similarly declined to comment on Newton’s nomination and its subsequent withdrawal.

Newton, a Baltimore County resident, has previously run unsuccessfully for the House of Delegates, Congress and most recently the Maryland Senate.

Newton brands himself as a researcher of election issues. In the past he has filed suit challenging the candidacy of Hasan “Jay” Jalisi, a Baltimore County Democrat who spent two terms in the House of Delegates. Newton alleged that Jalisi failed to meet the candidacy requirements because he did not live in the district in which he was running. That lawsuit was ultimately dismissed.

In recent years Newton has used social media to raise questions about state elections. In a 2017 post, Newton alleged the vote counts in Baltimore City for the 2016 election were inaccurate. Newton was an unsuccessful candidate for the 7th congressional district seat that year.

In other posts he has raised questions about the state’s voting systems, which he said contain microchips that are manufactured in China.

“Being a skeptic is not a disqualifier for a board of elections official — it should be a requirement,” Harris said.

Harris said she believes Moore had an obligation to forward Newton to the Senate Executive Nominations Committee. Such a move could have placed Senate Republicans in an uncomfortable position of either defending a nominee with a criminal record or bucking the party’s new leader, who is also the wife of Rep. Andy Harris (R).

“Governor Moore seems to think he is an emperor rather than a governor,” Harris said of Moore’s rejection of Newton.

While the party consults with attorneys, Harris said she will forward a new nomination to meet the Senate’s “time-limited schedule.”

“The new nomination does not mean that this situation and Governor Moore’s improper notification and rejection are resolved,” she said. “Rest assured, we will do everything in our power to hold this administration’s feet to the fire and make them operate within all laws and statutes with no exceptions — especially regarding election law.”


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After dust-up over governor’s letter, Maryland Republican Party will find new nominee for State Board of Elections