Washington (CNN)A special election taking place amid the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday will determine who will take over the late Elijah Cummings’ Maryland House seat.
Democrat Kweisi Mfume is facing off against Republican Kim Klacik to serve out the remainder of the term after Cummings died last year at the age of 68.
The Baltimore-area congressional district — Maryland’s 7th — is heavily Democratic, making Mfume the favorite to win. The most unusual feature of the race, however, is that election officials are strongly encouraging constituents to vote by mail as a public health and safety measure amid the pandemic.
Residents of the district can vote by mail, by absentee ballot or in person at one of three voting locations that are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Competed vote-by-mail ballots must be postmarked on or before Tuesday or deposited at secure drop box locations by 8 p.m. Tuesday.
The Maryland board of elections’ website states, “To slow the spread of COVID-19, all voters in the 7th Congressional District are strongly encouraged to vote by mail. The process is secure and the most effective way to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.”
The special election — and the emphasis on voting by mail — comes as states and districts across the country must grapple with how to hold elections during the pandemic that has devastated the country, sparking both public health and economic crises that have already dramatically reshaped American life.
It may serve as a logistical test run for the state of Maryland ahead of future elections. But there are a number of features of the current election that make it distinct.
Mileah Kromer, an associate professor of political science at Goucher College, cautioned against drawing broad conclusions about the use of vote by mail during the election, noting that it is a stand-alone special election, not taking place in a regular cycle, in a district where Democrats significantly outnumber Republicans.
“I would not use this as a data point in evaluating the merits of vote by mail. This is a really kind of unique election,” Kromer said in an interview.
But the heavy emphasis on voting by mail may still provide insights into best practices for future elections.
“It will give the state an opportunity to see how much infrastructure might be needed to mail out the ballots and do all the work that goes into a vote-by-mail election,” Kromer said.
The election is taking place after Mfume and Klacik advanced to the general after a primary in February.
For Mfume, the election creates the opportunity for a comeback of sorts, given that he held the congressional seat from 1987 to 1996, after which he was succeeded by Cummings. In the primary election, he beat out Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the late congressman’s widow.
Elijah Cummings was a key figure in the House-led investigations into President Donald Trump as the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. He was also a high-profile target of the President’s attacks.
During one of those attacks, Trump tweeted disparaging remarks about Cummings and his district, which includes parts of the city of Baltimore, calling the majority black district a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”
In addition to previously representing Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, Mfume has served as a Baltimore City council member and president of the NAACP. He is also a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
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