McDonough wants more time for petition drives
Del. Patrick McDonough, a key Republican behind a popular effort to stop in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, said Maryland should give petition drives more time and fewer deadlines.
The Baltimore County conservative stalwart says petitioners should have 90 days, instead of 60, to collect the 55,000-plus signatures needed to get a referendum on the ballot. He also wants to do away with the rule requiring one-third of the signatures in the first 30 days.
His timing might seem odd: This week, the Board of Elections validated more than enough signatures to keep the in-state tuition referendum alive. In fact, in his release today,. McDonough notes that the group has more than 40,000 valid signatures -- well over the 18,000 that were due May 31 and closing in on the 55,736 needed by the end of this month.
But McDonough said that while "passion" and Internet prowess (the group has collected thousands of valid signatures though its mdpetitions.com) have given this particular referendum drive a boost, the time is right to revisit the referendum process.
"We're succeeding in spite of the system," he said. "This is the opportune time" to try to change the rules for petitions "because it's going to be on people's minds."
If the in-state tuition referendum is certified, Maryland voters will decide in November 2012 whether to repeal a new law that provides in-state tuition for undocumented students who have attended at least three years of high school in the state and whose families have paid taxes.
McDonough said he would file legislation to alter petition drives either in this fall's special session or in the regular session that begins in January.
"The Maryland petition process is one of the toughest in the nation," he said. He said the state -- which does not give citizens the power to recall elected officials or propose new laws at the ballot box -- should do more to empower citizens.
Past efforts to ease the rules on petition drives, give voters recall powers and institute ballot initiatives all have failed in the General Assembly. If McDonough's bill succeeds, it would then need voter approval, as it is a change to the state constitution.
Petitioners have long complained -- and filed lawsuits -- about the strict rules on signature validation. The state's highest court has determined that a petition signer's printed name must match or nearly match what he or she used to register to vote.
For example, someone registered as John Arnold Doe would have to sign either using that full name, John A. Doe or J. Arnold Doe. John Doe would be deemed invalid. However, the Court of Appeals ruled in March that it's OK to have a sloppy signature.