Our national and state governments are systems of checks and balances to ensure that no one branch of government has too much power and that the government serves the people. In Maryland, we’re used to not getting much balance, but we are guaranteed the “final check” on our elected officials by voting them out of office or voting down legislation they pass by petitioning state laws to a ballot. Both require verification of residence in Maryland for participation, but why are the standards to vote and to sign a petition so different?
The latter “check” by the people was most recently championed during the 2012 election when concerned citizens collected enough signatures to bring Democratic priorities including the DREAM Act, same-sex marriage and redistricting plan to the ballot. Citizens were able to vote yea or nay on whether the law would stick. Although all of the ballot initiatives failed and the laws still stand (albeit by some close margins), the mere fact that their initiatives were called into question upset Maryland Democrats and now they are out to suppress citizens’ ability to petition a law to the ballot in retaliation. House Bill 493, ironically named the Referendum Integrity Act, places additional burdens on an already difficult petition process and aims to dissuade citizens from signing onto a referendum. If HB493 passes, petition sponsors will have to create a campaign finance committee for each law that is petitioned, each signer must include their birthdate, each signature page must contain language that information is subject to public disclosure, and petition circulators must take a training course and prohibits payment per approved signature.
Meanwhile, Governor O’Malley and other Democrats through HB224 – Improving Access to Voting – are looking to relaxing the requirements needed to register to vote by allowing same day registration, expanding early voting, and allowing online access to absentee ballots.
Recently Governor O’Malley wrote, “We need to do everything we can to improve access to voting and encourage Marylanders to exercise their most fundamental right.”
So what about that other fundamental right to petition your government? Does that not exist when the result of people exercising it creates bumps in your road to the White House?
Maryland Public Policy Institute: No Need to Change Referendum Process
Capital Gazette: Some Sore Winners Are Trying to Obstruct Referendums
Maryland Reporter: Democrats Bill on Referendums Denounced as Voter Suppression by GOP Delegate
Baltimore Sun (OpEd): Democrats’ Hypocrisy on Voter Access