Politics and Passover will both be high priorities for Maryland Jews next month. But this year they overlap. Maryland’s primary election is April 26, which is during the intermediate days of Passover, when many Jews are out of town for the holiday.
But a voter need not be present on April 26 to cast a ballot. Early voting is available April 14 through April 21, with voting sites in every county in the state, including eight in Montgomery County and 13 in Baltimore County and City.
In addition, voters may request absentee ballots. The deadline to request one is April 19.
About 20 percent of the Jewish community will be gone on April 26, said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, which is trying to get the word out.
“Because people are not used to voting in April, we know we need to put some effort and resources into getting people out to vote,” Halber said.
Halber said his agency’s executive committee has not decided how much money it will spend on a get-out-the-vote effort, but it will involve a combination of emails, paid TV public service announcements and paper flyers.
He said the Jewish community makes up between 10 and 15 percent of the Maryland electorate and loyal voters are often “bombarded with literature.” But to reach a wider audience, the JCRC will target Jewish centers such as synagogues and kosher markets in Montgomery County.
“The reality is that people know that there’s a presidential [primary] because they’re focused on Trump. But they don’t know when it is. Our job in the Jewish community is to remind the entire community of a civic obligation,” Halber said.
In Baltimore, similar efforts are underway with the Baltimore Jewish Council, which is likely to begin targeting the community with PSAs and emails, said Executive Director Art Abramson.
“If people want to vote, the fact that it’s on Passover should be no hindrance to them voting,” he said.
Abramson said every year the BJC works with the state to make sure that there are ample early voting days in order to accommodate members of the Jewish community in the event an election falls on a holiday. He recalled once again bringing this to the state’s attention last year after community members made several inquiries to him about the conflict.
“I was in Annapolis with our government relations director at the time, Cailey Locklair Tolle, and I got a call from the governor’s office asking if we were available, and we turned right around and had a meeting,” said Abramson. He noted that the governor’s office and legislature were “extremely accommodating,” in making certain there were enough early voting days.
Baltimore City’s councilwoman Rikki Spector, a Democrat who has been in office for almost 40 years, said city residents used to vote in a stand-alone election in the fall during years when there was no presidential election, but this resulted in turnouts around 18 percent.
“Even though all politics are local, it really wasn’t,” she said.
Spector was involved in the effort a few years ago to change the timing of city elections to coincide with presidential years. For the past month, Spector has been campaigning for Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who is in a close primary contest with Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s (D-Md.) — and waging her own get-out-the-vote effort in the process.
“I’m always making a point about the primary date to make sure that you do exercise that responsibility,” she said. “I do a lot of reaching out to people in senior buildings and in the high-rises.”
To see where and how to vote early, or to request an absentee ballot, go to elections.state.md.us/voting.