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Senate panel delays vote on Republican nominee to state elections board

Diane Butler was nominated to a seat on the Maryland State Board of Elections by the Maryland Republican Party earlier this year. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

A Senate committee delayed a vote on the nomination of another Republican nominee to the State Board of Elections over questions about emails she sent that may have questioned election integrity.

The nomination of Diane Butler is the latest to stall in the Senate Executive Nominations Committee. The panel delayed a vote Monday night at the request of an unnamed member of the committee.

Senate Executive Nominations Vice Chair Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Howard and Anne Arundel). Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

“I still have some serious concerns about it,” said Senate Executive Nominations Vice Chair Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard and Anne Arundel). “Some of the actions and correspondences have been shared with me. I think those can make it very difficult for me to move forward with this nomination but obviously this is up to the committee to decide.”

Republicans on the committee raised questions about delaying a vote on Butler and wanted assurances there would be time for the state party to nominate someone else before the General Assembly session ends on April 8.

“She seems very qualified and experienced,” Senate Minority Whip Justin Ready (R-Carroll and Frederick) said in an interview.

Senate Executive Nominations Chair Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City) said there would be plenty of time left, adding that confirmation for Butler was not out of the question.

“I think there’s some outstanding questions based off of the questions, the testimony that was provided before the committee today, that hopefully will be answered, and we will have an opportunity to deliberate and take action on it,” Hayes said.

Lam led the questioning of Butler, who spent eight years on the Howard County Board of Elections, serving until mid-2023. He declined to name the senator who asked to hold the nomination, saying that such requests are typically confidential within the committee.

The exact nature of Butler’s comments in the emails is not fully known. Butler faced questions from Lam, but the emails have not been made public.

In an interview after the hearing, Lam said he hoped Butler would meet to explain the messages.

Several of Lam’s questions focused on emails in which he said Butler raised concerns about elections in Howard County.

“I think we’ve had, we’ve had so many changes so quickly. I think there are some places that we could improve,” Butler told the committee. “I think the change has to be balanced. I think the one year it was kind of sloppy and we were literally in a room and ballots were coming in and they weren’t being categorized as tightly as had been done in the past. Ours were always so good. We knew where every ballot was. And that one I think was a little bit sloppy.”

Lam asked Butler if that was enough to make her question the results of the election.

“No, I don’t think so,” she replied, adding: “We do the audits and our audits come out very good.”

In another exchange, Lam, a physician, asked Butler about posts attributed to her Facebook page in which she questioned wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“And the post that was purported to be from you said that you responded with the ‘Come on, what’s next Nazi armbands?'” Lam said. “Is that something you recall posting in the past?”

“It could have been mine. You know, I think that there were a lot of different thoughts about the masks,” she said, adding that many people in the beginning of the pandemic didn’t initially believe the illness was that serious.

“We all had to go through a tremendous amount of learning curves on how we were going to deal with a pandemic of that sort,” Butler said.

The Facebook post in question was not released publicly on Monday night.

Ready asserted that “the questions [during the confirmation hearing] got kind of weird.”

“I don’t understand why they’re raising objections,” he said. “It’s not a crime for someone to be a Republican or be a conservative Republican member of the board.”

Following the meeting, Lam told reporters he had concerns about Butler’s answers.

“I think she tried to give answers to the questions that we had that attempted to ameliorate some of our concerns,” said Lam. “I think I still have concerns about issues that were brought up by some of her correspondence and actions while she was in the Howard County Board of Elections.”

Asked if he thought Butler was dishonest in her responses, Lam said:

“I think she would probably say that her interpretation of the questions that she brought up weren’t intended to question the integrity of the election,” said Lam. “I think she was very careful in how she brought up her concerns and probably left herself with an opportunity to justify this is not something that questioned the integrity of the election, but just clarifying the process.”

The earliest the committee could revisit her appointment would be when it meets again on March 25.

Butler, Ellicott City resident, was nominated by the Maryland Republican Party. Gov. Wes Moore (D) formally submitted her name to the Senate a week ago.

She is one of two people selected to fill two Republican seats on the five-member panel.

In the last 14 months, the Maryland Republican Party has had trouble with its nominations. Butler is the fourth nominee selected by the party to fill its two elections board seats.

The Senate Executive Nominations Committee is scrutinizing nominees more than before after one GOP board member, Carlos Ayala, resigned.

Federal prosecutors say this image shows Carlos Ayala on the Upper West Terrace at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Ayala was subsequently appointed to and resigned from the Maryland State Board of Elections. Image from court documents.

The Eastern Shore Republican resigned in January after he was charged in a federal indictment with participating in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

As with other elections appointments this year, Butler was asked about her views on elections integrity and where she was on Jan. 6.

“I’d just gotten back from Florida from visiting with my daughter and I was actually cleaning my fish tank because it got a bunch of stuff in it while I was gone,” Butler explained. “I was at home.”

Senate leaders have said additional questions about election integrity and Jan. 6 would be part of a litmus test for all appointments to the elections panel.

Butler has a varied background. On her LinkedIn resume, she lists her current occupation as a contract employee “supervisor-troubleshooter” for the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Educational Progress.

The Ellicott City resident and home school teacher served on the county’s Republican Central Committee from 2008-2014.

She also lists membership in the Screen Actors Guild as an actor, stand-in for “Wonder Woman” star Lynda Carter and stunt double.

Butler unsuccessfully ran for Howard County Board of Education in 2008. She complained that an opponent portrayed her negatively as a “home school teacher who wanted to teach creationism and religion” in public schools.

Years later, she founded Responsible and Educated Drivers, an organization focused on discouraging texting while driving. She started the group in response to a car crash that severely injured her then-16-year-old daughter.

Last year, Moore nixed the Republican Party’s nomination of William T. Newton to the state elections board, saying the perennial candidate for office “does not meet our internal vetting standards.”

The governor cited Newton’s recent history of challenging the outcome of the 2020 election. He also cited a guilty plea involving “a crime of moral turpitude.”

Newton pleaded guilty in 2019 to charges of misdemeanor embezzlement in a case involving his mother. Newton was sentenced to probation before a judgment contingent on paying $16,495 in restitution in installments of $100 per month.

Following Newton, the Senate Executive Nominations Committee rejected the nomination of Christine McCloud, a Howard County hypnotherapist whose election experience was limited to working for one candidate at a poll in the last election. The committee cited concerns about McCloud’s voting record, which included voting in only one primary and four general elections since 2010.

The panel approved Ayala only to see him indicted in January. He resigned his seat on the day of his indictment.

“Some of that I didn’t even know about until I read about it in the paper when they put my name in — I went, ‘Oh, I can see why this is going to be a little more contentious,'” Butler said.

The Maryland Republican Party has one remaining slot to fill on the state board.

William Voelp, the former board chair, has remained on the panel as a holdover appointment — though not as its leader — since July.

The governor’s office confirmed the Maryland Republican Party nominated Jim Shalleck to fill the spot currently held by Voelp.

Shalleck, a former prosecutor, unsuccessfully ran for state attorney general in 2022. He was president of the Montgomery County Board of Elections for six years. He also unsuccessfully ran for Montgomery County executive a decade ago and for Montgomery County state’s attorney before that.

Shalleck is currently running to be a delegate to the Republican National Convention, supporting former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

Haley announced last week that she is ending her bid for president, but she will remain on the May 14 Republican primary ballot in Maryland, as will candidates seeking to become her delegates at the GOP convention.

A Moore spokesperson said last week that Shalleck’s nomination is being held only because he currently is “actively running in an election” and therefore cannot be appointed to the elections panel. The governor is expected to take action on the nomination after the May primary.

Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.


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Senate panel delays vote on Republican nominee to state elections board