ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s primary election, originally scheduled for April 28, has been postponed until June 2, Gov. Larry Hogan announced during a press conference on Tuesday, March 17.
The news comes as the most recent preventative measure laid out by the governor as the state continues to take necessary steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, also called coronavirus, the global pandemic that has had the world on high alert since last month.
On Monday, Hogan issued orders to alter the statewide limitation of public gatherings to 50 people or less. Last week, he declared public gatherings of at least 250 people as prohibited.
“I have two main priorities – keeping Marylanders safe, and protecting their constitutional right to vote,” Gov. Hogan said.
“Yesterday, we announced that public gatherings of 50 people are prohibited statewide. It would endanger public health to allow thousands of people to assemble in places like schools and senior centers, which are already closed under the state of emergency.”
Last week, Gov. Hogan laid out a series of major actions after the state’s first case of community transmission of the virus was confirmed. School districts have been shuttered until March 30, and senior centers are closed until further notice. Facilities such as these serve as polling stations when elections are held.
“It would put Marylanders at risk, especially poll workers and election judges, most of whom are retirees and a part of the most vulnerable population,” he said.
“Therefore, I am issuing a proclamation to postpone the April 28 primary until June 2.”
Maryland is not the only state to postpone its primary elections until a later date. A number of other states, such as Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana are doing the same to prevent person-to-person contact at polling stations during this public health emergency. States that have not postponed elections are expected to do so in the near future, Gov. Hogan said.
Hogan said he is directing the Maryland Board of Elections to develop a comprehensive plan by April 3 to conduct the primary election in a way that protects public health and preserves the integrity of the democratic process.
Seventh District exception
This proclamation has one exception, however. The state is still moving forward with the April 28 special election to fill Maryland’s Seventh Congressional District seat in Congress. The seat was vacated after the death of Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-7, late last year.
“It is imperative that the people of the Seventh Congressional District have a voice in the House of Representatives, and that Maryland has a full delegation representing our state in Congress,” Gov. Hogan said.
The governor said that after consulting with the Maryland Board of Elections, the state is moving forward with the special election. The Board of Elections has been directed to implement a vote-by-mail system, he said. Gov. Hogan reiterated that this applies only to the Seventh Congressional District special election.
“We want them to do everything to ensure this process moves forward in a fair and timely manner,” Gov. Hogan said.
“Free and fair elections are the very foundation of American democracy.”
Other postponements and announcements
The governor said the state has been in discussions with the Stronach Group, a Canada-based entertainment and real estate company that owns Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, to move the Preakness Stakes to some time in September. The Preakness Stakes horse race is the second leg of the Triple Crown, the rarest achievement in horse racing.
Hogan also said the state is taking proactive steps to maintain essential transportation services while also taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. All vehicle emissions inspections program sites will cease operations. The Maryland Health Department and the Maryland Department of Transportation have been directed to immediately prepare to have these sites repurposed to be used as drive-thru COVID-19 testing centers across the state.
Gov. Hogan said he urges all Maryland citizens to avoid unnecessary travel. The state is taking immediate steps at Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Airport to enact increased social distancing. Anyone who is not a traveling passenger or an airport employee is discouraged from entering the airport terminal, he said.
Check-in lines have been eliminated, and the airport’s hours of operation have been altered to allow for deeper cleaning of the airport terminal, and only carry-out options at airport restaurants are allowed, he said. The Maryland Transportation Authority (MTA) will close all customer service centers across the state, the entire state will immediately move to cashless tolling in order to reduce person-to-person interactions.
On March 18, all local bus, lightrail, metro and commuter bus services will be reduced while continuing to prioritize and provide medical trips, such as dialysis, chemotherapy, hospitals, clinics and mental health facilities. Beginning today (March 17), marked train services are reduced by 50 percent.
Hours at Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) buildings are reduced, and all non-commercial driver’s license tests are suspended, Gov. Hogan said. The governor said he sent a letter to President Donald J. Trump requesting that the deadline for REAL ID compliance be extended in Maryland and all over the country. As of now, Americans have until Oct. 1 of this year to obtain a REAL ID to board domestic flights and enter federal government installations.
Gov. Hogan declared a state of emergency on March 5. Since that time, all nonessential business are closed, and dining options have been limited to drive-thru and carry-out only. Only essential businesses, like grocery stores and gas stations, will remain open.
“We have the best team of people working around the clock to address this crisis,” Gov. Hogan said. “We will continue to keep you informed and we will continue to do whatever is necessary to keep people safe.”
‘Flatten the curve’
Gov. Hogan emphasized that it is important for every Maryland citizen to do their part to help the state government “flatten the curve.” People who feel sick should stay home from work and contact their medical provider, he said. Parents or legal guardians are encouraged to do the same for children who feel sick. If a person in the household tests positive for COVID-19, the entire household should self-quarantine and contact their medical provider, he said.
Older people are encouraged to stay at home and away from people as much as possible, he said. People with underlying health conditions are also encouraged to stay at home. These are sections of the population at greatest risk.
“At the same time, everyone should use common sense,” Gov. Hogan said. “Panic-buying just increases person-to-person exposure. Instead of hoarding cleaning and hygiene products, share with your neighbors.”
“We’re all in this together, and it will take everyone of us working together to keep people healthy and to save lives.”