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Election day is Tuesday in the Maryland primaries. Under a quirk of Maryland law that makes it unique among all other states, election officials aren’t even allowed to count mail-in ballots until Thursday.
Buckle up for an election count that in all likelihood could stretch into the weekend, and for few good reasons.
With around half a million mail-in ballots requested, the lag between Election Day and when we know which candidates have won their party’s nomination could be a long one. It also has everything for adherents of any Big Lie to find perceived evidence of voter fraud. Just two years ago, then-President Donald Trump used such a discrepancy — during which his margins on Election Day shrank as mail-in votes were tallied — to fuel his false claims. that Democrats were stuffing the ballot boxes while they counted in the days that followed.
In other words, there’s a ticking time bomb for democracy’s credibility just outside of DC, and no one is defusing it.
Maryland officials know the problem. At the height of the pandemic, Gov. Larry Hogan issued an emergency order that allowed votes to be counted before Election Day as requests for door-to-door voting increased. That order has since expired, and Hogan vetoed a measure in April that would have allowed him to continue; the time-limited governor argued that the broader bill lacked the election security measures it required, such as signature matches.
In other words, Hogan didn’t get everything he wanted, so nobody got anything. It was a game of chicken, and the voters lost.
And it’s not like it was a silent vote this cycle. Due to term limits and incumbent ambitions, voters of both parties will have a blank slate for candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller and state attorney general. National groups have played in the primaries, with the Democratic Governors Association working to boost the odds of a Republican candidate its strategists deem too extreme to win. (The DGA’s preferred candidate drove two buses in Washington on Jan. 6, but says his crew did not join the riot on Capitol Hill.) parties center their identity.
Political trickery aside, Tuesday’s Maryland primary is just the latest reminder that the stakes in the election matter far beyond the exchange of political vouchers. Those in power have actively decided that they are okay with public confidence in elections being further eroded. It’s a choice that unnecessarily gives an opening to democracy skeptics, the kind of short-sighted misfire that helps radicalize skeptics into insurgents.
Democracy only works when there is broad participation and trust in the legitimacy of the system. When this wanes, the power of the experience also wanes. It’s not limited to either party either. George W. Bush and Joe Biden both faced protests against their elections, and the rancor did little to help Washington’s civility in Wasilla.
All that to say this: Tuesday’s vote in DC’s literal backyard should have been a time for both parties to flex their democracy muscles, to celebrate another exercise in America’s rural west stretch experience. from the state to the suburbs of Washington. Instead, it’s another example of what happens when policymakers know they have an ongoing problem and instead choose to hijack a fix in pursuit of a more accomplished response. It’s a familiar room, even if it looks reckless from the outside.
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