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Assembly considers bill to move primary


Baltimore's next municipal primary election would shift to March next year and coincide with the presidential contest under legislation introduced in both chambers of the General Assembly.

But it appears the measure will not pass through the legislature without scrutiny from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who wants the city elections held the same time as state races - the even years opposite presidential elections.

Changing the date of Baltimore's primary has grown particularly urgent this year, lawmakers say, because the current structure creates the possibility of a lame-duck mayor presiding over city government for more than a year.

In 1999, Baltimore voters passed a referendum to move the municipal general elections to coincide with presidential elections. But the dates of all primaries in Maryland are controlled by the state legislature, which has rejected past proposals to align the city races with the presidential election.

If the legislature does not make a change during this session, the city's primary will be held in September, and the general election will be 14 months later, in November.

"We have to do what is best for Baltimore City," Miller said in an interview. He said he had not seen the legislation - which was introduced Friday - but he would like the city elections to be the same years as state races.

Miller has said he favors municipal elections in the same year as state races because it helps increase voter turnout for both and saves money by reducing the number of elections. The move also prevents locally elected officials from having a free shot at state office without having to give up their seat in municipal government, he said.

City lawmakers are settled on holding the municipal elections in presidential years. Leaders in the city House delegation said members support the bills as drafted, and city senators voted in favor of the legislation Thursday night.

"We're aligning it with the presidential [election]," said Democratic Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, chairman of the city Senate delegation. "We'll look at any amendments when they come."

Usually, a bill that affects only one jurisdiction is passed by the legislature if it has the support of the delegation from that area.

But this issue has been of personal interest to Miller for years.

Miller and City Councilman Robert W. Curran, a Northeast Baltimore Democrat, have been working for five years to change the date of the city's municipal elections.

Since 1923, city, state and presidential elections have all been held in different years. All other major Maryland jurisdictions hold their local elections the same year as the gubernatorial races.

Holding city races at the same time as gubernatorial or presidential contests could save as much as $4 million in election costs, Miller and Curran have said.

While most lawmakers agree a change is needed, the debate has focused on whether to align the city races with the gubernatorial or presidential contests.

State lawmakers have used the debate over the city's election cycle as a political bargaining chip during the past few years to broker deals with the city.

Last year, Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat, killed the election bill and threatened to do it again in a debate over the size of the City Council.

McIntosh and Del. Salima S. Marriott, a Baltimore Democrat and chairwoman of the city House delegation, said the election bill should pass the House.

"There are no problems on the House side," McIntosh said. "I don't know about the Senate."

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