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Election Day is Tuesday in Maryland’s primaries. Under a quirk in Maryland law that makes it unique among all other states, election officials aren’t allowed to even start counting mailed-in absentee ballots until Thursday.
Buckle in for an election count that in all likelihood could stretch into the weekend—and for little good reason.
With roughly a half-million mail-in ballots requested, the lag between Election Day and when we’ll know which candidates won their party’s nomination could be a long one. This makes it easy for Big Lie believers to discover evidence of voter fraud. Just two years ago, then-President Donald Trump used such a gap—during which his day-of-voting margins shrunk as mail-in votes were counted—to fuel his bogus claims that Democrats were stuffing the ballot boxes as they counted in the days that followed.
In other words, there’s a ticking bomb for democracy’s credibility just outside of D.C., and no one is defusing it.
Maryland officials are aware of the issue. Governor Larry Hogan issued an emergency order that allowed votes to be tallied before Election Day. Larry Hogan made an emergency declaration that permitted votes to be counted before Election Day, as there was a surge in requests for ballots at home. This order was canceled in March and Hogan opposed a bill that would have permitted it to be continued. The term-limited Governor claimed that the bill did not include the election security measures he required, including signature matches.
In other words, Hogan didn’t get everything he wanted, so no one got anything. The game was one of chicken and the voters lost.
And it’s not like it’s a quiet ballot this cycle. Because of term limits and incumbents’ ambitions, voters in both parties will have a blank slate for nominees for governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and state attorney general. The Democratic Governors Association has been working hard to increase the odds of a Republican candidate winning, while national groups are playing in the primary. (The DGA’s prefered candidate led two buses to Washington on Jan. 6 but says his crew did not join the riot at the Capitol.) And the picks in the highly educated D.C. ‘burbs may give national party leaders a hint as to just where both parties are centering their identity.
While political manipulation is not an issue, Tuesday’s Maryland primary was a reminder that elections are more than just politics. The individuals in power have actively decided that they are fine with the public’s faith in elections being further eroded. It’s a choice that needlessly gives democracy’s doubters an opening, the kind of short-sighted screw-up that helps radicalize skeptics into insurrectionists.
Democracies only work when everyone is involved and confident that it has legitimacy. If that fails, the experiment will be less effective. It’s not limited to either party, either. George W. Bush, Joe Biden were both subject to protests regarding their election results. The rancor didn’t help Washington-Wasilla relations.
All of which is to say this: Tuesday’s voting in D.C.’s literal backyard should have been a moment for both parties to flex their muscles of democracy, to celebrate another exercise of the American experiment from the rural western stretch of the state all the way into the Washington suburbs. Instead, it’s another example of what happens when policymakers know they have a problem afoot and elect instead to hold hostage a fix in pursuit of a plussed-up answer. It’s a familiar play, even if it’s one that seems reckless from the outside.
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