Md. officials warn later city primary would be difficult


A proposal to hold Baltimore's municipal primary in September 2004 could create serious logistical problems and high costs for the city, state election officials told a House of Delegates committee yesterday.

Voter registration is heaviest during the months before a presidential general election, and city election board workers might be overwhelmed processing these registrations by state-mandated deadlines while running a primary, the state board of elections told members of the House Ways and Means Committee.

"I think that's going to be very difficult for the Baltimore City board of elections to do," said Linda H. Lamone, administrator of the state board of elections. "I am concerned that the system will be overstressed."

The General Assembly is considering moving the date of the city's primary election, scheduled for this September, closer to the next municipal general election in November 2004. In 1999, Baltimore voters chose to move the city's general election to coincide with presidential races, but the legislature, which controls the date of all primaries in the state, must change the city's primary or risk having a lame-duck administration for 14 months.

Mayor Martin O'Malley asked state lawmakers to move the city's primary to coincide with the presidential primary in March 2004, in particular to save as much as $575,000 in election costs. But Del. Jill P. Carter, a Northwest Baltimore Democrat, is leading an effort to move the primary to September 2004 to ensure that candidates have sufficient time to campaign.

Proponents of the September 2004 primary said they believe the city election board could handle the work if required to do so by the state. In addition, they said if the people are willing to pay for it, they should be allowed to have the primary in September 2004.

"We can find $500,000 for democracy," said Mitch Klein, a political organizer for advocacy groups the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, and Community and Labor United for Baltimore.

Klein and others told the committee that a March 2004 primary favors incumbents because the winter months would make it difficult for political newcomers to campaign. He said after such recent changes as the shrinking of the City Council and creation of single-member election districts, the incumbents are angling for ways to gain an edge over would-be challengers.

Del. Justin D. Ross, a Prince George's Democrat and a member of the Ways and Means Committee, suggested that the city eliminate next year's primary and hold a nonpartisan general election as a way to resolve the dispute.

Del. Salima S. Marriott, chairwoman of the city House delegation and sponsor of the mayor's bill, smiled and said, "That would be good."

The city delegates are expected to decide tomorrow which measure they will support.

In Annapolis

Today's highlights

10 a.m.Senate meets, Senate chamber.

10 a.m.House of Delegates meets, House chamber.

1 p.m.Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, hearing on gun control legislation, 2 East Miller Senate Office Building.

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