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What to watch in primary and special elections in Ohio and Maryland on Tuesday

A voter fills out a ballot in a special election primary in February in Baltimore. The general election to determine who will replace the late Rep. Elijah Cummings is Tuesday.
(Jeffrey F. Bill / The Baltimore Sun)

The Democratic presidential contest appears settled now, with former rivals and party luminaries lining up behind former Vice President Joe Biden. President Trump undoubtedly will be the Republicans’ nominee. So what’s left to watch as Ohio wraps up its long-delayed primary election and voters in Maryland determine who will fill a U.S. House seat left vacant by a longtime congressman’s death?

A look at what’s happening Tuesday:

Will delays affect mail-in balloting?

The cancellation of Ohio’s in-person March 17 primary because of the coronavirus outbreak placed immense pressure on a state mail-in absentee voting system already criticized as cumbersome by voting rights groups.

The state’s typical protocol includes running at least three pieces of mail — an application, the blank ballot and then the completed version — through the U.S. Postal Service. Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose sounded an alarm last week that mail was moving slower than promised. He predicted that could mean some Ohioans wouldn’t get their ballots on time.

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The presidential primary calendar is in flux as officials try to balance public health with a need to continue the electoral process.

In Maryland, voters in the 7th Congressional District are deciding who will serve the rest of the term of the U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, who died in October. They were mailed ballots weeks ago, and officials are strongly urging people to vote by mail.

Any glitches involving mailed ballots will be closely scrutinized, as governments decide how November’s presidential election will be handled.

How many will vote in person?

Ohio’s in-person primary has been called off because of the dangers crowds present for spreading the coronavirus, but mail problems could drive Ohioans to polls after all.

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Ohio law guarantees that any voter who doesn’t receive a ballot they requested by the legal deadline has the right to vote in person, LaRose said last week. That was not something officials had highlighted before. Only voters with disabilities or without permanent mailing addresses were originally expected to vote in person in Ohio’s extended primary.

In Maryland, three polling centers will be open for people who can’t vote by mail, such as the disabled or homeless. The three voting centers are being prepared to comply with social distancing guidelines.

When will results be known?

The Ohio secretary of state has said he expects to have decisive results to report Tuesday night, although votes cast on mail-in ballots postmarked by Monday will continue to be counted.

Ballots cast in Maryland will be quarantined for about 24 hours after polls close in case of contamination with live virus. The hope is that any viruses will die before ballots are handled.

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Will Bernie Sanders pick up delegates?

Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee, but former rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders remains on ballots. He told supporters when he dropped out of the race April 8 that he could still pick up delegates, giving him sway over the party’s national agenda.

Bernie Sanders endorsed Joe Biden’s presidential candidacy on Monday as he made a joint online appearance with the former vice president.

Kayla Thomas, an Ohio State University junior, was among tens of thousands of college students cleared off of campuses where Sanders’ support was strong. She said she’d vote for Biden, as many progressives are doing in a unity bid against Trump.

“It definitely doesn’t feel right to do it, but at the same time, not voting at all is definitely not the better option — for anybody really,” she said.

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But with many Ohio votes cast before Sanders left the race, and Biden all but certain to win the nomination, some stalwart supporters may see a vote for Sanders as a low-stakes way to send up a last flare of support.

In Maryland, who will replace Elijah Cummings?

Former U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a Democrat, and Kimberly Klacik, a Baltimore County Republican Central committee member, are facing off to replace Cummings, who served from 1996 until his death in October. The winner of the special election will represent a large portion of Baltimore, as well as parts of its suburbs. It’s a heavily Democratic district, with more than four Democrats for each Republican.

Mfume is a former head of the NAACP. He held the congressional seat in the majority-black district for five terms from 1987 to 1996, before Cummings.

Klacik has appeared on Fox News and caught President Trump’s attention with her social media posts that prompted the president to describe the district as a “disgusting rat and rodent infested mess.” His tweets led to accusations that he was engaging in overt racism against political opponents.

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Both candidates say the pandemic has created challenging conditions for a campaign. Without traditional campaign methods, they say they have been using social media to reach voters. The winner will run as an incumbent in Maryland’s June 2 primary for a full term.

Who will win key Ohio congressional primaries?

Ohio has two closely watched congressional primaries.

In central Ohio, Democratic four-term U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, 70, faces a challenge from the left from Morgan Harper, 36, a lawyer and former senior policy advisor at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bureau’s former director has endorsed Beatty, and Harper was endorsed by Justice Democrats, the progressive political action committee that helped give rise to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

In southwest Ohio, two Democratic women are vying to take on 12-term Republican incumbent Steve Chabot of Cincinnati. Kate Schroder, a career healthcare advocate, and veteran U.S. Air Force pilot Nikki Foster have shown the ability to raise money and attract supporters.


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