A Mail-In Experiment in Baltimore’s 7th Congressional District

More than 85,000 people have already submitted ballots for the race to fill the seat still vacant after the 2019 death of Representative Elijah Cummings.

BALTIMORE (CN) — Testing out remote voting options that will soon go statewide, Maryland voters are expected to rebuff the candidate who depicted Baltimore City as rat-infested in a viral video.

The unusual special election is the second of four elections this year to fill the 7th Congressional District seat, which has been vacant since the death of U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings in October 2019.

It has pitted Kimberly Klacik, a 38-year-old Republican political newcomer, against 71-year-old Kweisi Mfume, a Democrat who won the February primary to retake the district he represented from 1987 to 1996, when Cummings took office.

With eight months left in the term, voting in the special election has been conducted mainly by mail-in ballot. Ballots with return postage were mailed to eligible voters in early April — or at least that was the plan. Some voters did not receive them and were scrambling last week along with election officials to mail or email and print out ballots in time. On April 14, the board of elections authorized three in-person polling places.

Given the new terrain of pandemic voting, Michael McDonald, a political science professor and elections expert at the University of Florida, said that the issues that have cropped up so far don’t look so bad.

“Maryland is a little better off than some of the other states,” McDonald said in an interview. “What they’re doing is probably the best way forward: Run a mail ballot as much as you can, but give people the option to vote in person if they need to.”

Tamara Debnam, an elections assistant for the Baltimore City Board of Elections, sorts mail-in ballots Monday at a canvasing warehouse ahead of the 7th Congressional District special election. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Election officials will announce the count as of 8 p.m. tonight, with final results not announced until next week because ballots mailed at the last minute will take several days to get to the elections board, then put in “quarantine boxes” for a day, before being validated and counted.

On June 2, there will be yet another primary election, which will include the presidential and down-ballot races, followed by a general election in November to decide who will be sworn in for the next full term in January of 2021. The rapid-fire pace of elections for the same seat have left some voters confused, as some who requested absentee ballots received both the special general ballot and the June primary ballot last week. 

Mfume ran a low-key campaign banking on the goodwill and name recognition he amassed over his decade in office and subsequent stint as the high-profile director of the NAACP, a job from which he was ousted over sexual harassment allegations that were kept quiet until recently. Mfume promises to continue the socially progressive policies both he and the late Cummings championed. He says he wants “$16 billion for a major urban reinvestment program” and a law requiring “psychological testing as part of any gun sale.”

Klacik says she’ll be the opposite of what Cummings was. She’s for a 100% tax credit for home schooling and says “access to firearms is ‘essential’ in times of crisis.”

In a break from GOP orthodoxy, Klacik wants birth control pills to be sold over the counter but has mainly wrapped herself in the Trump brand. Credited with inspiring the infamous tweet thread where president said “no human would want to live” in Baltimore, she has made her name lately as a Fox News commentator and now claims to be a journalist, though her former occupation was as the founder of a nonprofit supplying clothing to people starting new jobs or wanting to attend their high school prom.

Klacik contends that her company Potential Me assisted “close to 200 women [to] become gainfully employed, thirty percent went on to obtain financial independence.”

“As the nonprofit grew, she employed women reentering society and quickly found out what it took to manage payroll and helping families thrive with opportunities she helps create,” according to biography published on Klacik’s campaign website.

Courthouse News could not substantiate those claims. 

Chartered in 2013 from the Middle River home she shares with her accountant husband, Potential Me has filed only one tax return since its founding. It reportedly raised less than $7,000 and spent less than $3,000 on its good works, providing clothing to 10 people. Klacik’s campaign did not respond to a request for an interview; messages left in Potential Me’s voicemail box was unanswered; and no one picked up the business phone listed for her husband, Jeff.

Klacik’s record before Potential Me is somewhat troubled, with lawsuits involving debts and a number traffic tickets for driving under a suspended license. In 2007 she was arrested on that charge and had to pay a bail. Online court records indicate she skipped several court dates and the bail was forfeited. 

In 2005 a car dealer won a $2,500 judgment against her and moved to garnish her wages at the Lexus Gold Club, an adult entertainment venue in Washington, D.C. The venue, which has since closed, told the court that she was not an employee. She paid the debt.

In her campaign, Klacik promises “no more socialism in District 7,” in which she defines socialism as taxpayer funds under the control of government bureaucrats. “If you are advocating for Socialism, hopefully this small dose of government control due to the Coronavirus will be what it takes to change minds,” she has said.

The virus forced the hybrid mail-in election, which Klacik regards as unfair, telling a right-wing media host that the three in-person polling places are in voting districts more likely to favor Mfume.  

She is on the ballot for the June primary. 

The 7th District encompasses sections of West Baltimore and the northwestern corridors extending into Baltimore and Howard Counties. It was carefully gerrymandered starting in 1973 both to remain in Democratic hands and to favor black candidates. Its population is 59% black and 81% of its registered voters are Democrats. Both Klacick and Mfume are black, as was the late Cummings.

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