Officials to Road-Test Same-Day Registration During Special Congressional Primary

Primaries are taking place Tuesday to replace the late Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.). Photo by Bruce DePuyt

Tuesday’s special primaries to select nominees to replace the late Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) have several unique features, but most noteworthy is the fact that this will be the first test of the state’s new Election Day voter registration law.

It seems unlikely that the new law will bring flocks of unregistered voters to the polls to participate in the 24-candidate Democratic primary and the eight-candidate GOP contest. But Tuesday should be a decent test of the same-day registration process.

On Monday night, Jason McLaurin, an adviser to the congressional campaign of state Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) complained that the Carter campaign was unaware of the same-day registration for the special primary until reading about it in The Baltimore Sun Monday afternoon and said strategists were under the impression that it would not be implemented until the state’s regular April 28 primary. In a follow-up text message to Maryland Matters, McLaurin said he was under the impression that other campaigns in the special election were also unaware that the primary day registration was being utilized.

Del. Terri Hill (D-Howard) said same-day registration as has been part of her congressional campaign’s strategy. Campaign photo

But another candidate in the Democratic scrum, Del. Terri L. Hill (D-Howard), said in an interview Monday night that the same-day registration figured into her team’s voter outreach plans, and that the campaign was advising supporters who had recently moved or were unregistered to take advantage of the new system.

“We are trying to encourage more voters,” Hill said.

Last week, the Maryland State Board of Elections issued a news release reminding 7th District residents that they could register and vote on Tuesday.

“To register and vote on election day, an individual must be eligible to vote in Maryland, go to the correct polling place where he or she lives, and bring a document proving residency,” the news release said. “The documents that prove residency are a Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) issued driver’s license, ID card, or change of address card, or a paycheck, bank statement, utility bill, or other
government document with individual’s name and current address. The same day registration process is available on election day; however, address, party or name changes cannot be changed on election day.”

In fact, the state recently issued short-term regulations governing same-day registration for the special primary. The regulations will then be refined and updated in time for the April 28 special general election in the 7th District, which coincides with the state’s regular 2020 primaries.

In the Democratic race to replace Cummings, the frontrunners have been former U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, the late congressman’s predecessor, and former Maryland Democratic chairwoman Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the congressman’s widow.

But Carter is believed to have a strong ground operation and may get a boost from Sunday’s Baltimore Sun endorsement. University of Baltimore Law School professor F. Michael Higginbotham has spent the most on the primary, thanks in part to a $500,000 loan from his own pocket.

Other state lawmakers in the race, like Hill, state House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch (D-Baltimore City), and Del. Hassan S. “Jay” Jalisi (D-Baltimore County), could also be factors.

“Conventional wisdom says Kweisi should sweep,” observed former state Del. Clarence “Tiger” Davis, who ran in the multicandidate Democratic congressional primary in 1996, when Elijah Cummings was first elected. “Jill has an inside shot in that there are no women in the [Maryland congressional] delegation.”

On the Republican side, the leading candidates appear to be Kim Klacik, a conservative commentator, and attorney Liz Matory, who was the GOP nominee for Congress in the 2nd District in 2018.

On Monday, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) signed an emergency bill passed by the General Assembly last week that allows unsuccessful candidates in Tuesday’s special primaries to remove their names from the regular April 28 primary ballot if they request to do so by 5 p.m. Thursday.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.