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Bill to change 2024 primary date amended to avoid clash with another holiday: Ramadan

Baltimore Sun 3/9/2023 Jonathan M. Pitts, Baltimore Sun
Legislators are considering a bill to change the date for the state primary in 2024. © Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/TNS Legislators are considering a bill to change the date for the state primary in 2024.

It has been nearly two weeks since Democratic Del. Dalya Attar introduced a bill aimed at changing the date of Maryland’s 2024 primary from April 23 to April 16 to avoid a conflict with Passover.

Attar deferred to a different holiday on Tuesday by submitting an amendment to that bill that would change the suggested new date of the statewide election, this time to May 14.

If the primaries were to take place on April 16, as it turns out, early voting for the event would overlap with Ramadan, the month of fasting and prayer Muslims consider one of the holiest times of the year.

“April 16th would mean that early voting would fall on Ramadan, and I did not want the date to conflict with Ramadan either and restrict people from voting,” Attar wrote in an email to The Baltimore Sun.

Attar said it was a constituent who drew her attention to the potential conflict.

The amendment passed Thursday in a subcommittee of the Rules and Executive Nominations Committee.

Maryland law calls for primary elections to take place on the fourth Tuesday in April of a presidential election year.

But constituents reached out to Attar and her colleague in the 41st district in Baltimore, Democratic Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg, last month to point out that April 23, 2024, also happens to be the first day of the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Because the holiday prohibits observant Jews from engaging in work — a stricture that includes voting — Attar and Rosenberg concluded the schedule would create undue obstacles for many Jewish voters in 2024.

That caused the two to reach out to State Administrator of Elections Linda Lamone. Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., both Democrats, contacted Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, about the issue days later.

Making such a change requires an act of the General Assembly, and Ferguson and Jones said they would work with those in charge of scheduling elections to have the primary shifted to April 16.

“A primary election date that unintentionally coincides with the Passover holiday would prevent thousands of Marylanders from engaging in their fundamental right to vote,” they said in a joint statement. “We will work with the State Board of Elections and local election officials to find a more appropriate date.”

But the change proposed in Attar’s original bill turned out to contain another unexpected conflict. If it passed, moving the date of the primary forward by a week, it also would move the dates for early voting forward by a week, to April 4 through April 14.

Ramadan marks the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. Observant Muslims follow a tradition of fasting from dawn to dusk during the holiday, engaging in additional daily prayers and giving to charity.

Because Ramadan, like Passover, is pegged to the lunar cycle, its exact dates on the Western calendar differ from year to year. And because the holiday falls between March 10 and April 9 next year, it would overlap with several days of early voting should the bill remain as written.

Rather than submit an entirely new bill, Attar said, she packaged the change in the form of an amendment in “an effort to ensure expediency and efficiency.”

She thanked Ferguson, Jones, Scott, Olszewski and Gov. Wes Moore for supporting the amendment.

“I look forward to the amendment becoming law and the primary date next year being on May 14, 2024,” she said.

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