By Glynis Kazanjian
Opponents of just passed legislation allowing illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition met on Saturday in Annapolis to organize a petition drive for the issue. But the elections board has yet to revise signature guidelines for the process or approve wording on the petition.
“The state board of elections is redoing the guidelines right now in anticipation of any other petitions that will be filed,” Maryland Assistant Attorney General Jeff Darsie said.
The bill to give discounted college tuition to illegal immigrants who graduated from high school in Maryland passed the General Assembly last Monday, and Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he will sign it. Earlier stories reported on provisions in the bill.
Because of a September 2010 Maryland Court of Appeals ruling and its written opinion issued in March, standards verifying petition signatures for a ballot referendum must change. The new standards are expected to be significantly less stringent than the standards applied to a ballot referendum effort last year in Montgomery County over ambulance charges, when over 60% of some 33,700 petition forms were rejected due primarily to “illegible signatures.”
That generated a lawsuit leading to the decision by the Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court.
Its March opinion said, “Legibility is not a statutory requirement in order for a signature on a referendum petition to be validated.”
The new petition signature guidelines will still require a surname, at least one given name and an initial on the petition signature form, Darsie said. But the court also ruled that the whole entry, including the printed and written name, will be considered to meet those requirements,
“The statute says that to sign a petition a person must ‘sign’ his or her name as it appears on the registration list, or by including the surname, a full given name, and at least the initials of any other names. That means that if the required identification is included in either the printed name box, or the signature box, or by considering both together, then the election board will validate the name,” Darsie wrote in an e-mail.
Deputy Elections Administrator Ross Goldstein said the new signature guidelines will be available sometime this week, earlier than Darsie estimated.
Timing is crucial with ballot referendum initiatives. Petitioners only have about six weeks to collect one-third of the signatures required to meet their first benchmark by midnight May 31, 18,579 valid signatures. A total of 55,736 must be collected by June 30 – a number equal to 3% of those who voted for governor last year.
The old standards can still be applied when collecting signatures while the guidelines are being updated. “If you meet the old standard, you would certainly meet the standards of the new guidelines,” Darsie said.
Possibly first in line to use the new guidelines is Del. Neil Parrott, a Washington County Republican who filed ballot referendum paperwork on April 13. He will lead a group comprised of Republicans, some Democrats (he hopes) and other organizations opposed to the in-state tuition legislation.
“We filed the papers…I’m starting it. A chairman and treasurer of the organization are going to be raising money and organizing. It’s now or never for the petition drive,” Parrott said.
Parrott’s group held an organizational meeting Saturday morning in Annapolis, and another meeting is planned for later this week that will include Help Save Maryland and People for Change, Parrott said.
The state board of elections is currently reviewing bill summary language that will appear on the petition form.