The Maryland Court of Appeals pushed back the state’s primary election from June 28 to July 19, according to an announcement Tuesday afternoon.
The filing deadline for candidates, which had already been delayed once and was scheduled to be on March 22, has moved to April 15.
The change is a reflection of the uncertainty over political boundaries in dozens of elections across the state.
The announcement came as a trial for a pair of challenges against Maryland’s new congressional map kicked off in the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Tuesday. A trial for petitions against the state’s legislative map is set to begin on March 23, with the special magistrate in that case intending to submit his report to the Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction, in early April.
Additionally, Baltimore County officials recently submitted a redrawn map after a judge ordered them to do so in a lawsuit against the Baltimore County Council’s redistricting plan — although that map still includes just one majority Black district out of seven and plaintiffs say it still doesn’t comply with the Voting Rights Act.
Just last week, the Court of Appeals threw out a redistricting map for Prince George’s County Council districts that the council itself had drawn, restoring the boundaries that had been put in place by an independent commission.
Earlier this year, as challenges to various redistricting plans made their way through the court system, the candidate filing deadline was pushed from Feb. 22 to March 22. With the filing deadline now set for April 15, the deadline to withdraw a certificate of candidacy has been pushed back to April 18, the deadline to fill a vacancy in candidacy has been pushed back to April 20, and the deadline to challenge a candidate’s residency has been pushed back to April 21.
The primary delay also comes after local election officials warned that they could be overwhelmed by the work of implementing uncertain redistricting plans if cases aren’t resolved quickly. In a February letter sent to Maryland Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone, Maryland Association of Election Officials President David Garreis, who is the election director for Anne Arundel County, wrote that the State Board of Elections should consider moving the primary election “to a later date in 2022” in order to allow election officials more time to prepare amid ongoing litigation.
“If boundary changes are made through litigation that is not resolved until mid-April, there is not enough time to implement the line changes, update the tens of thousands of precinct descriptions for precinct boundaries across the entire State, engage in a rigorous quality control process, schedule a special meeting for each Local Board to approve the new precinct boundaries, and notify voters in a timely manner, while simultaneously ensuring the regular tasks to prepare for an election are completed,” Garreis wrote.
It has not yet been announced when early voting would begin under the new timetable or what the updated deadlines for filing campaign finance reports would be. The court’s decision to delay the primary suggests that judges, at a minimum, want to closely scrutinize the legislative maps that the General Assembly approved early this year, and increases the possibility that legislative and congressional boundaries could be changed.
Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), who has been harshly critical of the new congressional and legislative maps, which were drawn by Democrats in the General Assembly, has appointed five of the Court of Appeals’ seven judges, including Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty, his former chief legislative officer.
Getty was appointed to the top court in June 2016, and became chief judge last September when then-Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. Getty, 69, will reach the court’s mandatory retirement age on April 14 — one day before the new candidate filing deadline.
Beyond the mechanics of the new primary schedule, candidates, campaigns and advocacy groups were beginning to weigh the political implications of the court’s decision.
Fair Maps Maryland, the anti-gerrymandering group with ties to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) that is supporting challenges to the state’s congressional and legislative redistricting plans, celebrated the primary delay in a statement.
“This is a big win for all Marylanders who care about free and fair elections and ending our state’s abhorrent history of extreme gerrymandering,” Doug Mayer, the group’s spokesman and a former top communications strategist for Hogan, said. “Moving the filing deadline twice and now pushing the primary date are clear signs that the courts are taking this issue very seriously and that the politicians who have benefited from voter suppression have a lot to be worried about.”
Four of the 10 Democratic candidates for governor weighed in with quick statements on Tuesday evening.
Former U.S. Education Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.’s statement was the simplest.
“I respect the decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals to delay the primary election and I look forward to continuing to share my vision for our state’s future with Maryland voters,” he said.
But former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said in a statement that he was “deeply concerned and can’t imagine a more inconvenient time to hold an election or an outcome that will cause more confusion for voters.”
“This latest mess, which seems to happen on a regular basis here in Maryland, is a stark reminder that we need to reform the process by which our congressional and legislative district maps are chosen,” Baker said. “Because whichever side of the aisle you happen to be on, it’s clear this isn’t working for the people and does little but inspire confusion, resentment and apathy within our political system.”
Former Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez noted that as the former head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Obama, he understood the court’s decision to seek more time to sift through the legal challenges.
“I understand that courts need adequate opportunity to carefully review these cases,” Perez said. “Our campaign is excited to now have even more opportunity to share our vision to bring jobs, justice and opportunity to every Marylander in every jurisdiction of our great state. We remain confident in that work and look forward to coming together as a party to ensure we flip Maryland blue this November.”
Former nonprofit CEO Wes Moore said he also welcomed the extra three months to campaign.
“We’ve built our plans knowing this was a possibility and have positioned ourselves to be successful whenever Election Day is,” a spokesperson for Moore campaign said in a statement. “We are running an aggressive and agile campaign and will continue to connect with voters about Wes Moore’s vision to build a Maryland that leaves no one behind right up to the new election date.”
By Bennett Leckrone