Schedule for remap hearing puts election in doubt
The U.S. District Court for Maryland has released a schedule for its handling of a challenge to Gov. Martin O'Malley's redistricting plan that could challenge state election officials' ability to conduct the April 3 primary as scheduled.
The court set the date for a three-judge panel to hear the case for Dec. 20 in Greenbelt, with a decision expected by the end of January.
If the judges decide to throw out the map adopted by the General Assembly during its recent special session and to draw their own, the State Board of Elections would almost certainly have to seek a delay in the primary election.
The redistricting plan is being spearheaded by the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, which contends the new map unconstitutionally avoids creating a third district in which an African-American would be likely to win. The current map devised by O'Malley and General Assembly leaders gives Democrats a good chance of expanding their margin in the state's House delegation from 6-2 to 7-1 by targeting the 6th District seat held by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett.
The lawsuit is being financed by the conservative Legacy Foundation and has the support of the Maryland Republican Party.
The judges' schedule represents a partial victory for the challengers, who had sought a late January hearing.
Radamase Cabrera, a spokesman for the Hamer committee, said he sees the schedule as a "advantageous" for his group. He said he never really expected the court to grant a January hearing and feared it would order that it be held early next week. The Dec. 20 date will give the plaintiffs time to put together a witness list and produce affidavits for the hearing, he said.
"The judges are clearly doing the right thing," he said.
Linda Lamone, director of the state elections board, said the schedule could test the agency's ability to hold the primary on April 3.
"The later the decision, the more difficult it will be for us to meet all the deadlines," she said.
Lamone explained that the most important deadline is the federal requirement that the state mail out military absentee ballots at least 45 days before the primary. In the case of an April 3 primary, that means they must go out by Feb. 17, she said.
The elections chief said the board is proceeding with preparations for the election under the assumption that the current redistricting plan will stand.
"We have instructed the local elections board to implement that plan," she said.