State House's Closure for Repairs Puts Hitch in Electoral College Vote

State statute says Maryland's presidential electors are to convene in the State House.
State statute says Maryland's presidential electors are to convene in the State House. (By Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
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By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 15, 2008

It will take a loose interpretation of the law for Maryland to award its 10 Electoral College votes to President-elect Barack Obama today.

Maryland's presidential electors, according to state statute, are to convene in the State House in Annapolis on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December to translate the state's popular vote into the electoral votes that actually elect a president.

There's only one problem: The State House is closed. The 229-year-old capitol has been a hard-hat area since April for a major piping project.

So it has fallen to state lawyers to fix what contractors are still working on.

In a legal memo, the attorney general's office concluded that a "commonsensical" view of the law would allow the state to move its gathering to another site. Election officials have chosen a Senate office building.

"Not allowing the meeting to be held in another building in Annapolis would be tantamount to concluding that the electors must either not meet at all, or that they meet in the midst of a massive construction project in the State House," wrote Sandra Benson Brantley, an assistant attorney general. "Neither of these alternatives make sense."

Not that the second alternative wouldn't be interesting.

"That might make a nice photo op," said Donna J. Duncan, director of the election management division at the State Board of Election, which requested the legal advice.

According to Brantley's memo, the pipe job is the first major renovation of the State House since 1904. It is a building steeped in history. It was the temporary capitol of the newly forming American nation in 1783 and 1784. It also has the distinction of being the oldest in continuous legislative use in the United States.

The State House is also home to the executive branch: The governor's office occupies a suite on the second floor.

Leading Maryland Democrats, eager to witness today's event, are disappointed.

"We'd rather do it in the State House, because of its historic nature and the historic nature of this election," said David Paulson, a Democratic Party spokesman.

Dave Humphrey, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of General Services, said the State House will reopen, as promised, in time for the 2009 session. That starts Jan. 14.

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