Del. Pat McDonough, who is among the leaders of a growing effort to reverse a law that allows in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, is now working to give Marylanders additional time and fewer restrictions to gather signatures for petitions.
The Middle River Republican announced plans Friday in Essex to pre-file a bill for the 2012 General Assembly session that, if passed, would give petitioners 90 days, instead of 60 to collect the approximately 58,000 signatures needed to get a referendum on the ballot. In addition, McDonough also wants to eliminate the requirement that one-third of the signatures must be verified within 30 days.
“We have one of the most restrictive policies in the nation when it comes to petitions and referendums,” McDonough said. “When it comes to impacting public policy, the people of Maryland have no voice.”
Ironically, McDonough’s announcement comes as the Board of Elections validated way more signatures that were needed to keep his referendum effort to defeat the in-state tuition bill for illegal immigrants alive.
McDonough told Patch Friday that his group has about 44,000 valid signatures, despite only needing 18,000 approved by the end of May. He said he expects to easily collect enough signatures by the end of June to have the issue placed before voters in the November 2012 election. The bill will take effect July 1 if enough signatures aren’t validated in time.
However, McDonough said, his group is succeeding in spite of the law due to the emotions generated from the controversial law. Among those supporting the petition is five of the seven members of the Baltimore County Council, .
McDonough credits the passion of his volunteers across the state, bi-partisan support for the drive and the ability of people to sign the petition online via mdpetitions.com as reasons why they have succeeded so far.
“This petition drive is an anomaly,” McDonough said. “This is a hot-button issue and the passion is so strong that you don’t need to motivate people. But, there will be other issues coming up that may require a petition drive if passed in Annapolis, including gay marriage and the abolition of the death penalty.
"With Maryland basically being a one-party state, people outside of those in the highest position of leadership have little to no voice in the process, even if philosophically, they are in the majority.”
McDonough’s announcement also comes at the same time that the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland is calling into question the legality of validating petition signatures gathered online.
Concerned that the online petition system being used to gather signatures to petition the Maryland DREAM Act to referendum is illegal and vulnerable to fraud, the ACLU has written to the State Board of Elections to ask that the system’s legality be scrutinized.
The May 31 letter was sent to raise threshold legal questions at the outset of validation and verification – after an ACLU tester found that the systems pre-fills information for voters based on very basic personal data, and that one person could easily generate petitions for multiple voters and submit them to the board for validation.
“Online systems for signature gathering in support of a petition drive are new to Maryland, and raise serious questions about whether election officials can meaningfully scrutinize the authenticity of signatures, verify each signer’s intent, and investigate possible acts of fraud,” said Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland in a statement. “Unfortunately, the ACLU in the past discovered widespread fraud in a different referendum petition drive, so we know from experience how important it is for the state’s laws to be strictly followed.”
According to a news release from the ACLU, the online petition system at mdpetitions.com could be highly susceptible to fraud. Any user who knows the name, zip code, and birth date of an individual can easily generate a petition for that person, forge the individual’s signature, and fraudulently verify the petition on the individual’s behalf, the release continues.
“As a principle, the ACLU believes it is wrong to put people's rights up for a popular vote, and it is even more troubling to do so when the system being used to collect petition signatures is one so easily sabotaged by fraud,” said David Rocah, staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, said in a statement."