Gov. Larry Hogan has postponed the date of Maryland’s presidential and congressional primary election, saying holding it as scheduled would “endanger public health” amid concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
The primary, set for April 28, has been pushed back to June 2, Hogan said.
“I have two main priorities: keeping Marylanders safe and protecting their constitutional right to vote,” Hogan said at a news conference Tuesday.
Hogan said holding the primary election as scheduled would mean voters potentially crowding polling places in schools and senior centers — which have already been ordered closed to slow the spread of the virus.
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As part of the pushback on the primary date, Hogan said he is directing the State Board of Elections to develop a “comprehensive plan” by April 3 to conduct the rescheduled primary “in a way that protects public health and preserves the integrity of the democratic process in our state.”
For Maryland’s 7th Congressional district seat, which was vacated by the death of Rep. Elijah Cummings, Hogan said the special election also scheduled for April 28 will go forward — but via a vote-by-mail system.
“It is imperative that the people of the 7th Congressional district have a voice in the House of Representatives, and that Maryland has a full delegation representing our state and Congress,” Hogan said.
The 7th District includes parts of Baltimore City as well as Baltimore and Howard counties. In a statement, the State Board of Elections said it will mail absentee ballots to all voters eligible to vote in the special election. Ballots will be sent later this month.
Hogan said the State Board of Elections determined it wasn’t feasible to roll out vote-by-mail for the entire state by April 28.
But it was necessary do so for the 7th District, because “we didn’t want to have people without representation for that long in that district,” Hogan said.
He added: “This is a trial basis — never been done before.”
Hogan’s announcement Tuesday comes a day after he issued a series of orders to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus. Restaurants, bars, movie theaters and gyms across Maryland closed indefinitely starting 5 p.m. Monday. Earlier, Hogan declared a state of emergency, banned large gatherings, closed casinos and race tracks, and activated the National Guard.
Overall, more than 50 people in Maryland have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Fears over the outbreak are coinciding with the 2020 presidential primary. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine fought a court challenge Monday to delay voting in Ohio’s primary, which was set for Tuesday.
Other steps announced
Hogan also announced a series of other steps Tuesday to fight the spread of the disease.
Following the chaotic scenes at international airports over the weekend, where travelers returning to the U.S. from Europe were kept in close confines as they awaited screening, Hogan said BWI Marshall Airport would be rolling out social distancing efforts to keep travelers separated.
Among those steps: The airport would be eliminating check-in lines and changing its hours of operation to allow for deeper cleaning of the terminal.
Maryland is also reducing hours at Motor Vehicles Administration locations and suspending all driver’s license tests, except for commercial licenses.
Hogan said he is also calling on the Trump administration to push back the deadline for federal REAL ID compliance. The current REAL ID deadline is in October.
Maryland also plans to repurpose its vehicle emission inspection locations — which have all been ordered closed — into drive-through coronavirus testing centers across the state.