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Maryland voters focus on high-profile social issues

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Photo - Ballot (ThinkStock photo)
Ballot (ThinkStock photo)
Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

Campaigns crank up efforts to get out vote

Maryland voters face a bevy of high-profile, tightly contested issues on the ballot Tuesday, including gambling, gay marriage, the Maryland Dream Act and the state's redistricting plan.

With polls showing close races, advocacy groups are working non-stop the last few days before the election to make sure their supporters show up to the polls.

Maryland ballot questions
Questions 1 and 2: Would require Orphans' Courts udges in Prince George's and Baltimore counties to be legally allowed to practice law in Maryland and be members in good standing of the Maryland Bar.
Question 3: Inspired by former Prince George's County Councilwoman Leslie Johnson, who was caught stuffing $79,600 in cash in her bra and panties, this measure would remove elected officials from office when they have been convicted of or plead guilty to a crime, rather than waiting until they are sentenced.
Question 4: Would allow illegal immigrants who attended and graduated from Maryland high schools and whose parents filed income taxes in the state to qualify for in-state tuition at state colleges.
Question 5: Would uphold the state's new congressional districts.
Question 6: Would legalize same-sex marriage.
Question 7: Would legalize table games in the state and allow a new casino in Prince George's County.

After voting for president and some local elected officials, voters will be asked seven statewide ballot questions. Among them: should some illegal immigrants qualify for in-state tuition at Maryland colleges; should the state redraw its congressional district map; should same-sex marriage be legal; and should table games be allowed in the state and a new casino added in Prince George's County.

The gambling question has drawn the most attention, with the two sides throwing more than $80 million into the fight. The groups -- backed primarily by the two casino conglomerates with the most at stake -- are using every tool possible: round-the-clock TV and radio ads, daily robocalls, social media, fliers left in drivers' windshields, ads in Metro stations and newspapers, and yard signs lining road medians.

On Saturday, supporters rallied at the state's Fraternal Order of Police headquarters in Upper Marlboro, while opponents traveled the state in a red tour bus with "Question 7 is a bad deal for Maryland taxpayers" painted on the side.

The next two days will include "more titanic battles of TV ads, and there will be some working at the polls. ... They're out doing grassroots, they're out contacting voters," Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot said when the opponents stopped in White Oak. "There are people making their minds up as the final days end, so everybody's putting their final efforts into it."

Working with far less money, groups pushing for the other issues also have been out drumming up support with ads, robocalls, yard signs, fliers and rallies -- and now they are turning their efforts to getting out the vote. Campaigns are meeting with residents, church groups and business leaders.

"For six months now we've been focused on getting out our message and getting an operation up and running, and now this is the time for it to really kick in and get out the vote," said Kevin Nix, spokesman for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the group backing same-sex marriage.

For many campaigns, the final days are a return to grassroots efforts, like phone banks and knocking on doors.

"You're going to have people in the street, boots on the ground," said Derek McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, the group opposing same-sex marriage.

The large number of major issues on the ballot may help the get-out-the-vote efforts, acting as a draw for voters who otherwise don't feel that their vote counts, experts said.

"Maryland has a special peculiarity because at least the pundits and the pollsters long ago put the state in the Obama column," said Don Kettl, dean of the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy. But the ballot questions will make some voters feel like their vote could matter.

And though most voters will probably vote for president, Kettl said, "I think that it is likely that some people will skip down to the thing that actually drew them."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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