By Mark Miller
Capital News Service
Time is running short for residents to register to vote and choose their candidate in Maryland's April 3 primary elections, and with new district lines going into effect this year, there is an added level of complexity in this spring's balloting.
At 9 p.m. on March 13, the deadline for new voter registration, changing party affiliation and requesting a change in polling place expires.
Voters must be registered with a party by the deadline to participate in Maryland's closed primaries.
About 30 percent of Marylanders now find themselves in new congressional districts due to last year's redistricting process, said Raquel Guillory, press secretary for Gov. Martin O'Malley.
"The majority of people are in the same districts that they were before," Guillory said.
Those affected by the changes, however, are not being left to figure it out on their own.
"Any time that a change is made, such as redistricting, a polling place change, anything like that, the system issues the (voter) a new voter notification card," said Mary Cramer Wagner, director of the State Board of Elections' voter registration division. "A lot of the local boards are also doing specimen ballots ... which list the candidates that would appear on their particular ballot, and list their polling place as well."
Only eight counties and Baltimore City are affected by changes among the districts. Voters in other jurisdictions may not receive notification cards simply because nothing has changed, Wagner said.
Among the changes, the 6th District withdrew from the Baltimore suburbs and split suburban Montgomery County with the 8th District, while parts of Anne Arundel County formerly in the 1st District were ceded to the 3rd and 4th Districts.
Most of Maryland's polling places and voting precincts were unaffected by redistricting, though Wagner said she could not estimate exactly how many may have changed.
Less than two weeks after the registration deadline, voters may begin casting ballots. The early voting period, during which registered voters may cast their ballot in advance, will begin on March 24 and last through March 29, the Thursday before the April 3 primary election.
Maryland is one of 35 states where voters are freely entitled to cast ballots before Election Day.
"We expect usually 20 percent turnout, possibly ... lower in a primary than in a general (election)," Wagner said of the early voting period. Registered voters can go to their designated early voting site and cast their ballots between March 24 and March 29, she added.
There is perhaps no primary election as hotly contested as the race for the Democratic nomination in the 6th District, held by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, for nearly 20 years but made competitive with redistricting.
Both Sen. Rob Garagiola, D-Montgomery, the preferred choice of Maryland's Democratic establishment, and financier John Delaney of Potomac, have been rocked by controversies in recent weeks: Garagiola failed to disclose income he earned as a lobbyist early last decade and Delaney crossed party lines to give $2,400 in 2010 to Republican Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, who then was locked in a tough race with Democrat Frank Kratovil in the 1st Congressional District.
Meanwhile, Air Force Dr. Milad Pooran has gained some attention from the Democratic Party's progressive wing, earning surprise endorsements from former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean and Reps. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, and Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, earlier this week.
However, with early voting just weeks away, the candidates will have to make final pitches soon. The Democratic nominee will face either Bartlett or one of his challengers in the contested Republican primary. The biggest names seeking to boot Bartlett on the Republican side are Sen. David R. Brinkley and Delegate Kathy Afzali, both of Frederick.
The Maryland State Board of Elections website, http://www.elections.state.md.us/, answers frequently asked questions on voter registration and voting. The board can also be contacted by phone at (410) 269-2840, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.