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Politics

Maryland primary election postponed three weeks to July 19

The Maryland Court of Appeals postponed the state’s primary election from June 28 to July 19, placing it in the middle of summer vacation season and shortening the general election campaign.

The state’s high court acted as a series of continuing legal challenges to Democratic-created maps have created uncertainty about what the final districts will look like in state legislative, congressional and some county council districts. Those uncertainties made it increasingly difficult for elections officials to plan.

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In an order issued Tuesday and signed by Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty, the court also pushed the filing deadline for candidates from March 22 to April 15. That deadline already had been postponed once, amid legal challenges to redistricting plans.

The primary will feature nominating races for governor, a U.S. Senate seat, all eight congressional seats, state delegates and senators, and a number of county and local positions.

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“I am deeply concerned and can’t imagine a more inconvenient time to hold an election or an outcome that will cause more confusion for voters,” said Rushern Baker, a candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. “I’m concerned about the ability for the state and county election boards to secure the personnel necessary to pull off an election in the middle of summer.“

But other candidates said the delay would give voters more time to get educated about choices within their parties.

The gubernatorial campaigns of Democrats Wes Moore, Peter Franchot and others said they were prepared for the switch, and Democratic candidate Tom Perez said the postponement would provide him “even more opportunity” to share his ideas.

Republicans hope the lengthened primary campaign means Democrats, who have a much larger field of gubernatorial candidates, will spend more money and have more time for infighting before the general election.

But GOP candidate Kelly Schulz’s campaign said her focus will remain the same “whether the primary is in June or September.”

The general election is Nov. 8.

The appeals court is hearing a challenge to the redistricting plan adopted by the General Assembly, which drew new boundaries for Maryland’s House of Delegates and state Senate districts.

In that case — being heard by retired judge Alan Wilner — three Republican state delegates and others say the maps were unfairly drawn to favor Democrats and don’t abide by Maryland constitutional guidelines.

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Wilner said several weeks ago that he hoped to hold an evidentiary hearing in late March and to file a final report by early April with the appeals court, which would then rule.

But the state attorney general’s office, which is defending the maps, had been cautioning that time was drawing short for elections officials to receive the final boundaries or else the primary would need to be postponed.

Anthony McCarthy, a Democratic campaign consultant and former spokesman for several Baltimore mayors, said the delay in the primary could make races across the state more competitive. Candidates who may have been hesitant to run against incumbents will have more time to prepare, he said.

”They don’t need to know everything about their district, but it gives them enough knowledge to target their voters, target money, and get out there and knock on doors,” McCarthy said.

But in Baltimore, Armstead Jones, the city’s election director, called the delay “a whole nightmare.” No amount of extra time will help election directors to prepare until the redistricting challenges are settled, he said.

”We’re waiting on the courts,” Jones said. “The longer they take to change things, it doesn’t help the election community at all.”

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Jones said election judge training is currently slated for this month. He’s concerned his judges will have forgotten the curriculum by July.

On Tuesday, a judge opened a trial in another Republican challenge to a Democratic-drawn map — this one showing the state’s new congressional districts.

Like the state legislative case, the suit against the General Assembly’s U.S. House map had no clear end date, meaning elections officials didn’t know whether they would receive the final district boundaries in time to hold the primary as originally scheduled.

Lynne A. Battaglia, a retired state appeals court judge, began the trial Tuesday in two Anne Arundel County Circuit Court lawsuits filed by Republicans and being considered together.

One of the GOP groups, led by Del. Neil Parrott of Washington County, is asking Battaglia to order the state to fashion a new map or — in the interim — to use one in the primary that was created by a commission appointed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan that included Democratic, Republican and independent voters.

Battaglia, in remarks before testimony began, said she had authority to issue an injunction blocking use of the Democratic-endorsed map, under which Democrats would be likely to retain control over seven of the state’s eight congressional seats.

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But the judge suggested it was unclear what might happen next. She said she did not know if the court could use one of the replacement maps proposed in the case as a substitute if it finds the Democrats’ map deficient.

“I’m not clear that this court has the authority to do that,” Battaglia said.

Courts around the country have historically employed a variety of remedies in redistricting cases. Those fixes have included redrawing the maps themselves or ordering the state legislature to craft new boundaries.

But those remedies can take time.

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Maryland postponed a primary just two years ago due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was moved from April 28 to June 2, 2020, and shifted to mail-in ballots only to minimize health risks during the outbreak.

Redistricting challenges pose their own complicated issues.

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To supply voters the correct ballots, local election boards must know precisely which legislative, congressional or county district any given location is in. Redrawing boundary lines may require boards to scout new polling places and secure contracts for those buildings.

Ballots must be completed no later than 45 days before federal elections to comply with a U.S. law designed to safeguard the voting rights of military members and others overseas.

The state had been warning that it was approaching a point of no return.

State elections officials “are losing sleep right now thinking about how they’re going to deal with whatever emerges,” Assistant Attorney General Andrea Trento said at a Maryland Court of Appeals hearing on Feb. 17 about a challenge to the state legislative map.

Baltimore Sun reporter Christine Condon contributed to this article.


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