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Election 2022

Seven questions on our mind as primary polls prepare to open

Voters line up to cast ballots in Charles County in 2020. Photo by Angela Breck.

Primary day is finally here.

And still, nobody knows exactly who’s voting — or when we’ll finally know the official outcome of all the races. Here are a few questions we’ll be pondering as we wait for the results to roll in:

What will voter turnout look like?

We’ve had constant reminders, with a dysfunctional Congress and countless consequential decisions rolling out of the U.S. Supreme Court, of how important state government is. So why does it feel like nobody has been paying attention to this election, with recent polls showing high numbers of undecided voters? Who’s actually voting? When and by what means are they voting?

With President Donald Trump out of the White House, will voter turnout return to its desultory mid-term norms? Why are so many people so much less passionate about state and local elections than they appear to be about presidential contests? And has Maryland’s election system, with all the options for voters, clouded matters?

How Trump-y are Maryland Republicans, really?

Polls have shown that an overwhelming number of Maryland Republicans think fondly of the former president. But will that sentiment manifest itself at the polls? Several Republican leaders are preaching pragmatism: Vote for the conservative with the best chance of winning a general election, rather than the purest or Trumpiest.

The gubernatorial primary, between Trump-aligned Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick) and Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s choice, former state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, will reveal a lot about Republican voters’ desires (many Maryland Republicans, to be fair, like both Trump and Hogan). So will the GOP primary for attorney general (former Anne Arundel County Councilmember Michael Peroutka is the Trumpers’ choice), the primary for Anne Arundel County executive (watch former Del. Herb McMillan), the Harford County executive primary (state Sen. Robert Cassilly is the Trumpier candidate), and the state Senate GOP primary in the 37th District on the Eastern Shore, where Del. Johnny Mautz is challenging Sen. Adelaide Eckardt from the right.

What’s the status of the O’Malley brand and the O’Malley machine?

Katie Curran O’Malley’s bid for attorney general has brought the band back together to a great degree, and former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is reveling in the “role reversal.” But is the O’Malley brand a net positive in Democratic primaries these days?

Curran O’Malley is facing off in the Democratic primary against Rep. Anthony Brown (D), who was once Martin O’Malley’s lieutenant governor.

Many of O’Malley’s closest confidantes are serving as informal advisers to Wes Moore’s gubernatorial campaign. There are parallels between Martin O’Malley’s political skills and Moore’s. But are the tricks that worked in 2006 and 2010 relevant today? We’ll find out the answers to both questions soon.

Which party will be more divided after the primary results come in?

Who would have predicted a few months ago that Maryland Republicans might emerge from the primary more broke and divided than the always-fractious Democrats? But that’s very likely to be the case. Can you imagine Dan Cox endorsing Kelly Schulz — or vice-versa? Can you imagine one GOP candidate’s supporters rallying behind the other’s?

Some Democratic leaders may have a hard time swallowing Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) as their nominee for governor, and there are sure to be some bruised feelings no matter who wins the primary. But most of the rank-and-file voters will fall in line behind their nominee.

Will the developers have their way in county races?

Real estate interests are flexing their muscles and throwing a lot of money around in county races in Montgomery, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties, just to name a few — aided and abetted in some cases by the editorial board of The Washington Post, whose editorials in some cases could almost be viewed as in-kind contributions. Let’s see what their money can buy.

Which candidates will play spoilers?

With so many close races, every vote counts, which means contenders in multi-candidate fields, even if they get just a few percentage points, will be major factors. Who will we be talking about as true spoilers after the dust clears? We have a few ideas, but we’ll let the voters have their say. Pay attention especially to Rushern Baker’s total in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. The former Prince George’s County executive has suspended his campaign, but he’s still at the top of the ballot and is as well-known as just about anyone running for office this year.

When will results be finalized?

Lord only knows. Maryland is the only state this election year that specifically prohibits processing mail-in ballots before the polls close on Election Day. Thirty-three states allow counting of mail-in ballots on or before Election Day.

Elections officials have expressed concern about Maryland’s reporting timeline this year, given the potential volume of mail ballots, which take longer to process.

More than 10 times as many mail-in ballots have been requested this year compared to 2018, the last time the current rules were used for counting mailed ballots.

Nearly 500,000 mail-in ballots have been requested, and more than 190,000 had been returned by Sunday — a volume so high it surely could shift results after election night.