Democrats balk at plan to allow Kamenetz votes to count for Valerie Ervin in Maryland primary for governor

The death of gubernatorial candidate Kevin Kamenetz continues to ripple through Maryland’s Democratic primary as state election officials struggle to replace his name with Valerie Ervin’s without having to toss the 1.5 million ballots they’ve already printed.

The Maryland Board of Elections proposed a solution on Tuesday: Post signs alerting voters of Kamenetz’s death and informing them that ballots cast for him will count for Ervin, his former running mate.

But the concept is not sitting well with Ervin and some of her Democratic rivals.

“Voters are going to be confused,” Ervin said.

Ervin, a former Democratic Montgomery County Council member, was frustrated that state elections officials gave her little time to sign off on the proposal after she had had just one week to decide if she would wage a statewide campaign for governor. Kamenetz selected Ervin as his running mate in February, but died May 10 of cardiac arrest.

Ervin decided last Thursday to run for governor in the June 26 Democratic primary. State officials have asked her to help decide how to inform voters about the rare change in a field that includes six other major candidates.

Nikki Charlson, the state’s deputy election administrator, said officials were still finalizing the plan and had been seeking feedback from Ervin and the other Democratic gubernatorial campaigns on Tuesday.

Ervin said she was still weighing the idea but that elections officials were pressuring her to make a monumental decision too quickly.

Ervin said state elections administrator Linda Lamone had initially given her a deadline to decide by 3 p.m. Tuesday.

“To give me until 3 o’clock today without time to speak to my attorney and go over the proposal just does not sit well with me,” Ervin said Tuesday afternoon.

She added that she has been contacted by civil rights groups who have suggested that not having Ervin’s name on ballots amounts to voter disenfranchisement.

State elections officials have said they have been exploring other options because there is not enough time to reprint the ballots that will be used in the election. The current ballots list the names of Kamenetz and Ervin among the Democratic candidates for governor and lieutenant governor. Some of those ballots have already been distributed to absentee voters. Early voting begins June 14.

Ervin is now running with Marisol Johnson, a former Baltimore County school board member, as her lieutenant governor candidate.

Other campaigns had mixed reactions to the election board’s proposal.

Ervin’s rivals include Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, former NAACP leader Ben Jealous, state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., author and former State Department employee Alec Ross, Baltimore lawyer Jim Shea and Krish Vignarajah, who was a policy director for Michelle Obama.

A spokesman for Ross said he was disappointed by the election board’s signs proposal.

Not putting Ervin’s name on the ballot “calls the integrity of this election into question,” Ross said in a statement. “How will the candidates or the voters have any faith in this process when all of the eligible candidates were not actually printed on the ballot?”

Ross’ campaign said it had contacted printers who said they could prepare new ballots in time.

Kathryn Gilley, a spokesman Shea, said his campaign’s first choice is for Ervin to be on the ballot as a gubernatorial candidate. The campaign was reviewing the sign proposal and wanted to make sure the notices wouldn’t be written in a way that might give Ervin an unfair boost with voters.

“We just want to see exactly what it is,” Gilley said.

Madaleno supported the state’s proposal.

“Given the unprecedented nature of this sad ocurrence, it seems like an adequate compromise,” Madaleno said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Jealous confirmed that elections officials had contacted the campaign but declined to comment. Baker and Vignarajah were not immediately available for comment.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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