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School and election officials in the city of Baltimore and Baltimore and Howard counties are grappling with the need to hold a special primary Feb. 4. In this 2014 file photo, voters talk outside a school polling place.
School and election officials in the city of Baltimore and Baltimore and Howard counties are grappling with the need to hold a special primary Feb. 4. In this 2014 file photo, voters talk outside a school polling place. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

When Maryland school boards built their academic calendars, they knew to factor in a day off on April 28 so that school buildings could be used as polling places for the 2020 primary.

But they didn’t anticipate the need to close for another primary early next year. On Feb. 4, voters in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District can cast ballots in a special primary to help fill the seat of Democratic U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, who died Oct. 17.

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“This is a very unique situation,” said Howard County schools spokesman Brian Bassett.

Local education officials in Howard, along with Baltimore County and the city of Baltimore, are still deciding how they want to handle the unexpected demand for their buildings on a Tuesday when they expected to be holding classes.

Local election boards, meanwhile, say it would be impossible to find other locations to accommodate voters.

“We will be using the schools that we usually use,” said Howard Elections Director Guy Mickley. “It wouldn’t even be feasible to find that many other locations in Howard County on this short of notice. It wouldn’t have worked.”

Bassett said the buildings that serve as polling places in Howard’s portion of the 7th District — about half of the county’s 77 schools — will close for the election.

But the board is still deciding what to do about the other schools in the county. They also have to figure out whether staff members at affected schools will use that day for professional development or have a day off.

“The election will go on and we’ll be set up with polling places.”


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Whatever the decision, the counties and the city will have to move ahead quickly — or risk leaving parents scrambling with little notice.

Armstead B.C. Jones Sr., Baltimore elections director, said he’s working with the city school system to figure out a plan and determine which schools should close. Any change to the calendar is up to school board members.

“The plan isn’t final yet,” Jones said. “The election will go on and we’ll be set up with polling places.”

City school officials said they are still in the process of developing a plan.

In Baltimore County, a schools spokesman said district officials also are considering their options.

Ten Democrats and three Republicans have filed for the special primary and other candidates have announced they’re running.

The winners will advance to a special general election on April 28. Because that’s the same day as the regular primary, there won’t be further disruption to the school districts’ calendars. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said he scheduled the special election to coincide with the regular primary to save money and lessen confusion about when people can vote.

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