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O'Malley: Maryland referendum process too easy

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Photo - Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (Getty Images)
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (Getty Images)
Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

Shortly after Maryland voters legalized same-sex marriage and passed the Maryland Dream Act, allowing some illegal immigrants to pay in-state rates at Maryland colleges, the state's governor said the process for getting those measures on the ballot was "a little too easy."

"We've been best served in our state over the 200 or more years of our history by a representative democracy, rather than plebiscites," Gov. Martin O'Malley told WBAL.

Three of the seven statewide ballot questions before Maryland voters on Election Day -- same-sex marriage, the Maryland Dream Act and the state's new congressional districts, which were widely criticized as having been gerrymandered -- resulted from opponents collecting signatures from at least 55,736 Maryland voters who opposed each measure. In the case of gay marriage and the Dream Act, opponents collected more than twice the number of signatures they needed.

Other measures, like the high-profile expansion of gambling, were put on the ballot by state legislators.

This was the first year in more than a decade that a Maryland law has been petitioned to the ballot, said O'Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory.

In the past, someone who wanted to challenge a state law had to collect the signatures in person, but now the Internet enables those signatures to be collected from voters across the state in a short period of time, O'Malley said.

For example, state Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington County, used the website MDPetitions.com to collect thousands of signatures opposing both the Dream Act and the congressional districts. Though the Maryland Democratic Party challenged in court the use of the website to collect signatures, the lawsuit was unsuccessful.

Maryland House of Delegates Republican leader Anthony O'Donnell disagreed that the process needs to be changed, accusing O'Malley of being "undemocratic" and trying to "stifle the voice of the people."

There were three measures on the ballot because "all three of these bills were highly controversial," Parrott said.

In fact, Parrott added, the process could be easier.

"The one disturbing part of the referendum process right now is how difficult it is to get a signature to count," he said. If someone forgets to sign his or her middle initial, the signature is invalidated.

But making the process easier and putting more measures on the ballot would "lengthen the lines at the polls [and] increase the time it takes to vote," said Paul Herrnson, director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland. "In some ways, given the lack of knowledge voters have, it would probably be best if elected officials addressed some of those issues."

Democratic state Sen. Jamie Raskin, chairman of the Montgomery County delegation, agreed, suggesting that the legislature implement restrictions on the referendum process "so that this becomes the extraordinary way of doing things, not the ordinary way."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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