After governor raises concerns, bills might seek referendum changes -- Gazette.Net



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Amid celebrations by supporters of same sex marriage and the Dream Act, both of which were upheld by the state’s voters, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) reportedly questioned whether the referendum process is too easy and needs to be revisited.

“It’s been such a hot topic, and there were so many ballot questions this year, I’m sure someone will put a bill in,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Chevy Chase.

This year’s ballot had three questions that asked voters whether to uphold laws passed by the General Assembly. Opponents gathered enough signatures — just more than 55,700 — to put the issues before the voters. All of the laws, which O’Malley supported, were approved by voters.

To get a law on the ballot for voter approval, petitioners must gather signatures from 3 percent of the vote total from the last gubernatorial election. Those petition signers must have used their full surname and a full first or middle name, plus the initial of the other.

Also, no more than half the signatures on the petition can come from Baltimore city or any single county, unless the law in question is a local issue.

The introduction of legislation to change the referendum law may be likely, but it wouldn’t be prudent, said Sen. Roy P. Dyson (D-Dist. 29) of Great Mills, vice chairman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, which handles election laws.

“These legislators will be the ones meeting the voters of Maryland in the next election, so I would think they’d be very hesitant to introduce something like that,” Dyson said. “The governor doesn’t have to meet the voters of Maryland anymore.”

A spokeswoman for O’Malley did not return calls for comment by press time.

Dyson said he would not support an effort to alter petition regulations.

“We have one of the most onerous methods of getting a referendum to the ballot,” Dyson said. “So I would not want to change it.”

“Look, no one thinks the number should be 10 signatures, and no one thinks it should be 3 million signatures,” said Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Dist 20) of Silver Spring, who is also a constitutional law professor at American University’s Washington College of Law.

“We have a new court decision that allows people to validate their own signatures online. It’s certainly a game-changer in some sense.”

That decision came just weeks before the election, when the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that signatures collected online by MDPetitions.com were valid.

“I don’t think we want to change the number [of signatures required] just because it’s gotten easier to sign petitions,” Raskin said.

“We don’t govern by plebiscite, but the people do reserve the right to review the work of their agents in Annapolis.”

hnunn@gazette.net