Md. seeks primary election dates in April, June

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland voters would cast presidential primary votes in early April instead of during a February “Potomac” contest — and state office primaries would be moved to June — under a measure that is drawing bipartisan support in the state legislature.

Democratic and Republican leaders in the state are coalescing behind a plan to change the dates of Maryland’s presidential and gubernatorial primaries amid pressure from national parties and a requirement to make it easier for military members to vote.

Members of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee heard from the governor’s office and from state elections chief Linda Lamone on the plan, as well as efforts to synchronize Maryland’s elections with those of Delaware and Washington, D.C.

“This bill would ensure our presidential elections will be recognized in the national elections,” said Stacy Mayer, a lobbyist for Gov. Martin O’Malley. O’Malley and the General Assembly’s Republican and Democratic leaders are pushing the bill — a rare example of bipartisan unity in Annapolis.

The measure would move Maryland’s presidential primary from the second Tuesday in February to the first Tuesday in April.

Maryland voters played more of a role in the 2008 presidential primaries than in past years after the state’s contest was held earlier, but national parties are pressuring states to comply with a new schedule that pushes back the first contests until early February and keeps the place of traditional early-primary and -caucus states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

The proposal also would move the primary elections for Maryland state offices from mid-September to the last Tuesday in June.

The change would allow the state to comply with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which requires states to send members of military and other Americans overseas ballots no later than 45 days before a federal election.

The time between Maryland’s September primary and the November general election did not give the state enough time to finalize, print and send ballots to overseas voters last year.

Some lawmakers asked what would be done to give Maryland more visibility, given the later primary.

“In presidential elections you have some states that are known as fly-by states,” said Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel.

Maryland political leaders, including U.S. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, have been coordinating with Delaware and D.C. to hold their presidential primaries on the same day, to gain more national recognition, Mayer said. No agreement has been reached yet, she said.

In 2007, Maryland bumped its presidential primary date up to February and aligned with Virginia and D.C. to establish the so-called Potomac Primary.

The effort won more national recognition for the states, but that and other challenges to the dominance of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina in party primaries spurred the national Democratic and Republican parties to set new limits.

The Republican National Committee has threatened states that hold their contests before April 1 with a proportional allocation of votes in the party’s presidential-nominating process, rather than the winner-take-all system that is more likely to draw candidates to a state.

The Democratic National Committee opted for the proverbial carrot, saying it would grant additional delegates to the party’s nominating conventions to states that wait until after March 1 to hold their contests.

Mayer said the administration is “agnostic” on dates, as long as they don’t penalize the state with the national parties or violate the MOVE Act.

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