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Is It Too Easy To Petition A Law To The Voters?

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By BRIAN WITTE
Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Some lawmakers and Gov. Martin O’Malley are wondering: Has the Internet made it too easy for citizens to petition a new law to the ballot for voters decide?

This week, Maryland voters made the final call on three referred laws for the first time in 20 years. Opponents to same-sex marriage, the Maryland Dream Act and the state’s congressional redistricting map, successfully petitioned them to the ballot by collecting more than 55,736 signatures for each law. Voters ended up approving all three on Tuesday, however.

Delegate Jon Cardin, who chairs the House Ways and Means subcommittee on election law, said in an interview Friday that he believes voters have elected public officials to make laws. Referendums, he said, should be the exceptions, not the rule, and he said he would be open to discussing changes.

“I’m very open to looking at it if we think this is going to become more the rule, not the exception, because people are gearing up with other petitions that are going to gum up our system,” said Cardin, D-Baltimore County.

O’Malley, a Democrat, said after a close vote on the same-sex marriage legislation, that he believes the Legislature should consider looking at some changes.

People used to have to fill out petitions by hand. Now they can use the Internet to do it. By submitting a petition through the Internet, the online site grabs all the correct data needed for the signature to be counted, so the board of elections throws fewer out.

“It’s probably been made a little too easy,” O’Malley told WBAL-Radio. “Because of the Internet, that’s become so easy to do electronically that the Legislature probably needs to revisit that.”

But Delegate Neil Parrott, the Washington County Republican who chaired MDPetitions.com, said it’s still far from easy. He also emphasized that it had been 20 years since Maryland residents have voted on a referred law. MDPetitions.com used online technology to facilitate the signature-gathering process.

“It’s just a basic right, a part of our republic, to allow a check and balance so the people can have the final say in extreme cases,” Parrott said.

While same-sex marriage passed in a close vote with 52 percent, the other two referred laws passed with broader support. The Maryland Dream Act, which will allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition if they meet certain qualifications, passed with 58 percent of the vote. The congressional redistricting map was approved with 64 percent of the vote.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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