Friday, March 10, 2023

UPDATED: Maryland Bills Would Resolve Presidential Primary Conflict with Passover...

...but the possible resolutions take different routes. 

The Maryland primary along with contests in three other states will conflict with the observance of the Passover holiday in 2024. Over the years, the Old Line state has been no stranger to these sorts of electoral/holiday overlaps. Spring holidays have proven to be a bit of a thicket in recent cycles in terms of election scheduling there. 

Eight years ago, in fact, it was the Easter holiday that was problematic, forcing a change to a presidential primary initially scheduled for the first Tuesday in April. However, efforts to push the election back by just a week to the second Tuesday in April raised another conflict: that the canvass of the presidential primary would have elections administrators working during Passover week at the end of April. The solution was to push the Maryland primary even further into April so that the the voting did not conflict with Easter and the canvass did not overlap with Passover. Of course, that solution -- scheduling the election for the fourth Tuesday in April -- meant that voting took place during Passover in 2016. 

That 2015 experience is important context for the current dilemma in Maryland. And history has repeated itself to some degree early in the efforts to correct the conflict. Over the last two weeks, two bills -- one in the House (HB 1279) and one in the Senate (SB 955) -- have been introduced to shift the Maryland presidential primary up a week from the fourth Tuesday in April to the third Tuesday in April. But while that moves voting in the primary out of the Passover window, it would have election administrators working on the canvass during the holiday. That is, it would create the very same conflict that initial bills in 2015 proposed before being amended later on in the legislative process. 

However, the sponsor of the Senate version, Senator Shelly Hettleman (D-11, Baltimore), has devised a different path that avoids all of the April holiday snags. In an amendment that Hettleman has offered to a broader elections omnibus, the presidential primary would be pushed out of April altogether. That floor amendment to SB 379 would move the Maryland presidential primary back three weeks to the second Tuesday in May, aligned with the Nebraska and West Virginia primaries. 

Senator Hettleman explained the rationale for the later date to WMAR in Baltimore:
Originally, we looked at going a week earlier but there were concerns that Early Voting would conflict with the legislative session, so the idea was to go later so as not to conflict with any holidays. Procedurally, I understand it looks different, but there is no difference between amending the change onto another bill and having a bill on its own -- as long as it's making the change. We thought that this was the most efficient way of getting this done at this point in the session.
The move would push the primary later in the calendar during a cycle in which Republicans look to have the only competitive nomination race. And while it would place the Maryland contest during the home stretch of the 2024 process, it would allow the Republican Party in the Old Line state to continue using the truly winner-take-all plan it adopted in 2019 for use in 2020. 

The amendment will be considered on the floor of the Maryland state Senate on Friday, March 10.

UPDATE (3/10/23, 2:15pm): Senator Hettleman's amendment to move the Maryland primary to the second Tuesday in May was adopted on a voice vote and the enter bill later passed its second reading in the chamber. That clears the elections omnibus bill, including the presidential primary move for 2024, for final passage. A cross-filed companion bill has already passed the state House, but without the presidential primary provision. 

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