After successfully getting three popular referendums to the ballot Tuesday, Del. Neil C. Parrott said Marylanders can expect more ballot questions in the future.
“Certainly on the controversial laws that come through Annapolis, the referendum effort is a really good tool to have Marylanders heard,” said Parrott (R-Dist. 2B) of Hagerstown, chairman of MDPetitions.com, the organization that conducted the petition drives and campaigned to get the resulting ballot questions voted down.
Questions 4, 5, and 6 — the Maryland Dream Act, the Congressional district map, and same-sex marriage, respectively — were all approved by voters on Tuesday, but Parrott said getting the thousands of signatures required to put them to a popular vote was a victory in itself.
According to Parrott, more than 130,000 signatures each were turned in for the Dream Act and same-sex marriage petitions, and about 65,000 were submitted for the Congressional district map.
“MDPetitions.com allowed people all over the state to get involved and send in signatures,” Parrott said, noting that in the past, petitions have been circulated by hand, limiting participants to a certain area.
Nationwide, there were 12 questions brought to state ballots by petitions, a 14-year high, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In other states, voters took on questions of teacher labor laws, same-sex marriage, and medical marijuana.
Since 1992, there have only been two instances in Maryland when a law has successfully been put on the ballot for a popular vote, making this year a standout.
“Partly, it’s the introduction of new technology and the approval of electronic signatures” that led to this year’s ballot questions, said John Bambacus, professor emeritus of political science at Frostburg State University.
After a legal challenge to the validity of signatures collected by the website, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that signatures collected online are valid, and that the signature of the person circulating the petition can be the same as that of the person signing the petition.
“This election cycle has made clear that it is easier in the 21st century to petition something to the ballot than it ever was before,” said Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring.
Another reason for the success of the petition drives was the dominance of the Maryland General Assembly by Democrats, Bambacus said.
“It may be the only way the minority party feels they can be heard on issues like this,” Bambacus said. “These were all what appeared to be very controversial issues.”
But those who put the questions on the ballot this year may have been hurt by their own ambition, Raskin said.
“I think that the opponents of these questions really just galvanized the progressive vote and made clear where Maryland stands,” Raskin said. “I doubt that they’ll repeat this strategy. They had so many ballot questions on at once that they weren’t able to get the support they needed for them.”
There were lessons learned from the effort, Parrott said, and campaigning to defeat the questions once they were on the ballot was a major challenge.
“We really weren’t able to get the correct information out like we wanted to,” Parrott said. “We’re going to look at how to do that better looking forward.”