Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Redistricting challenges could force delay of Maryland’s primary election

Challenges to a state redistricting plan could delay Maryland’s 2022 primary election. 

During a scheduling conference Thursday, Special Magistrate Alan Wilner attempted to streamline the redistricting plan’s legal challenges. Currently there are four separate appeals. 

The challenges are complex and come months before the June 28 primary. That was enough to prompt a warning from a lawyer representing the Maryland State Board of Elections. 

“I have people at the board of elections, at the state board of elections and the local boards of elections, who are losing sleep right now thinking about how they’re going to deal with whatever emerges from both this case, the federal case and some of the counties,” said Andrea Trento, an assistant attorney general who represents the Maryland State Board of Elections. 

“I can’t tell you in what amount of time the board of elections can accomplish what emerges from this litigation,” said Trento. “The schedule your honor has proposed is probably going to result in a need for significant changes to, at minimum, the format of the election in June if not more extreme.” 

Wilner, a retired Court of Appeals judge who was the special magistrate for redistricting challenges a decade ago, asked how soon the board would need a ruling in order to not delay the election. 

“That’s a fair question and it’s one that’s impossible to answer because we don’t know what the scope of the changes are going to be,” Trento said. 

It can take months to implement a new redistricting plan. The board is still implementing the now-contested maps which the legislature approved in January. 

Trento said people should not assume that if “some degree of new map needs to be implemented, it can just happen in a week and the election can go on. It just doesn’t work like that.” 

Wilner’s schedule works in tandem with ongoing challenges to new congressional districts that are now before a Circuit Court judge. Many of the lawyers involved represent clients in both cases. 

The streamlined schedule seeks to avoid conflicts with those cases. He said he plans to send a report to the full Court of Appeals by early April. 

Wilner asked both sides to exchange discovery and expert reports by March 12. 

An evidentiary hearing is tentatively scheduled for March 22. Wilner vowed to have a report to the full Court of Appeals no later than April 4. His deadline is less than three months before early voting in the primary election begins. 

Trento said one date pitched by his client would seek a resolution by March 4. 

“That’s obviously not going to happen,” said Trento. “It’s not possible.” 

“It’s not going to happen in the congressional case either,” said Wilner. 

Two separate groups of Republican lawmakers filed interlocking challenges to the plan last week. Additionally, two individuals filed separate challenges to districts in Anne Arundel and Washington counties. 

“If it’s just a boundary tweak here and there then maybe we’re having a different discussion than if it’s, you know, dozens of districts that need to be redone,” said Trento. 

“Well, there are dozens of districts that are in play right now,” Wilner replied. 

“That’s absolutely the case, so that’s why it’s an impossible question to answer,” said Trento. 

Challenges to redistricting plans are not uncommon in Maryland. 

In 2002, the Court of Appeals threw out a legislative map. The court then appointed a special master to redraw the state’s legislative districts. 

A redistricting plan in 1972 was ruled unconstitutional. In 1984 and 1993, the court warned the General Assembly about redistricting plans in those years. 

In 2002, the primary was still held in September. Elections officials had months to implement the new maps. 

“We’re sort of in uncharted territory because in the past when this has been done the changes had more time between the entry of a new map and the date of the primary,” said Trento. “So we’ve got a situation where we’re in uncharted territory. The board of elections is telling me that they don’t think it’s possible.” 

Trento urged Wilner and the court to move quickly to resolve the challenges. 

“There’s not a date I can give the court that says if we get it done by this date we can do it,” said Trento. “We just need to get it done as quickly as possible and deal with the consequences after that. “