U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings from a 2017 Baltimore Town Hall, where he speaks of his concerns for democracy.
The congressional seat held for more than two decades by U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings could be filled as early as February ― or remain empty for more than a year ― depending on when Maryland’s governor decides to schedule a special election.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who Thursday ordered Maryland flags lowered in honor of Cummings who died from complications of longstanding health problems, has wide latitude to decide how quickly to schedule an election for the public to elect a successor. The governor has yet to make a decision about how to proceed, his spokesman said.
As Cummings’ friends and family mourn, Hogan has 10 days to issue a proclamation stating the dates of special primary and general elections to fill the vacancy.
Under Maryland law, the special primary election shall be held on a Tuesday that is at least 65 days after the proclamation was issued and the special general election shall be held on a Tuesday that is at least 65 days after the primary.
That’s near the end of February at the earliest.
“The whole process could be five months,” said Jared DeMarinis, the state elections board’s director of candidacy and campaign finance. “And that’s moving it along.”
If Hogan moved as quickly as the law allows, a new representative could be seated in February, but would have to stand again for election in Maryland’s April 28th primary.
That would mean three elections ― a primary race, general election, and another primary race ― in a matter of a few months.
DeMarinis said he wasn’t sure how much the special election would cost, but noted it would involve three jurisdictions, since Cummings’ 7th Congressional district spans Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County.
But Hogan also could elect to leave the seat vacant longer by scheduling the special primary for the same date as Maryland’s regular primary, April 28. That would save the expense to the state of having a special election, but would leave the 7th District without a new representative for more than a year until after the Nov. 3, 2020, general election.
“In theory, the governor could schedule it for the primary and the general,” DeMarinis said.
Hogan’s spokesman, Mike Ricci, said Thursday that it wasn’t clear yet when the special election would take place.
Todd Eberly, associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said Hogan will need to weigh the costs of multiple elections with the benefit of filling the seat more quickly.
“The idea of having these back-to-back-to-back elections, and the cost of them, it could make more sense to have the special election scheduled for the primary election,” Eberly said.
The last time Maryland held a special congressional election was 2008, when Donna Edwards filled the remaining term for Rep. Al Wynn, who resigned.
Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, had served as the representative for the 7th District since 1996. Before that, he spent 13 years as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, rising to be speaker pro tem.
Cummings chaired the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which has had a leading role in the House’s impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump.
New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney will serve as acting chair of the committee until Democrats choose a permanent chair at an undetermined future date, according to a senior Democratic leadership aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the decision. Maloney, a Democrat, has served in Congress since 1993.