Gov. Larry Hogan issued a proclamation Tuesday that moves the April 28 Maryland primary elections to June 2 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The decision affects both Maryland’s presidential and local primaries, including primaries for mayor, city council president and other offices in Baltimore City. Early voting will begin May 21 and run through May 28.
The 7th congressional district special election to fill the remainder of the late Elijah Cummings’ term will still be held in April, using solely mail-in ballots.
“While there are many valid reasons for unease and uncertainty right now, ensuring that the voices of Maryland citizens are heard shouldn’t be one of them,” Hogan said.
The Republican said he did not want to delay the special congressional election any further. "It is imperative that the people in the 7th congressional district have a voice," Hogan said.
The proclamation comes amid a stark milestone: overnight, the state’s confirmed count of coronavirus cases grew by 54 percent. More than half of those cases occurred through community transmission.
The governor declared a state of emergency in Maryland last week, allowing him to issue the special proclamation without requiring legislative approval. He has instructed the state Board of Elections to release a logistics plan for the elections addressing public health by April 3.
In a statement, the elections board said it is following Hogan’s order.
“Our highest priority is to deliver a safe election environment for voters and election workers while also ensuring the fundamental right to vote,” it said. “The actions announced today are critical to fulfilling that goal.”
The board said it will mail absentee ballots to all eligible special election voters beginning late April.
For now, the board is working to identify regular polling places for the June 2 primary. Hogan said his administration will continually monitor the coronavirus crisis and change plans if necessary; regardless, he is encouraging Maryland residents to vote by absentee ballot “as much as possible.”
The coronavirus pandemic has changed other voting plans throughout the country: Maryland is the fourth state to see alterations in election day plans.
After an intense legal battle, Ohio postponed its Tuesday primary election just hours before polls were set to open. On Saturday, Georgia officials postponed its presidential primary from March 24 to May 19. On Friday, Louisiana officials postponed their presidential primary from April 4 to June 20.
“This is an unprecedented time. It calls for extraordinary and creative solutions,” said Amber McReynolds, the former head of Denver’s Board of Elections and the CEO of Vote at Home, a nonpartisan nonprofit focused on expanding convenient voting options.
A mail-in only election, if done correctly, may increase voter turnout, she said.
“You have folks that maybe couldn't go on Election Day because they were working a 12 hour shift,” McReynolds said. “The traditional way of in-person voting can erect barriers for people.”
What’s most important to watch out for in the coming weeks is a state-guided mail-in ballot education process, she said.
Local campaigns have already had to adjust their outreach due to the pandemic; many suspended door-knocking, canvassing and large events. Now, they must adjust to their new timeline.
“The candidates have got to be doing some major fundraising right now,” said Roger Hartley, the dean of the College of Public Affairs at the University of Baltimore. “They were thinking, ‘We only have to be on TV until April 28. Now we've got to be on TV until June 2.’ ”
Hartley said the additional time is a double-edged sword: It gives candidates more time on the trail, but makes the race more expensive.
“It's going to disadvantage candidates that are grassroots only and that don't have a lot of power to raise money, compared to those that raise lots of cash in a short amount of time,” he said. “Unless people can pivot and raise money fast.”
You can register for an absentee ballot on the Maryland State Board of Election’s website.