After petitions sent three Maryland laws to voters this fall — the first such referendums in 20 years — state leaders said Tuesday that the process designed in the era before electronic signatures needs a fresh look.
"Our forefathers never imagined everything that we did in
Opponents of same-sex marriage, the
Miller, House Speaker
Shortly after the election, O'Malley told the news media, "It's probably been made a little too easy" to put laws up for referendum. On Tuesday, his spokeswoman confirmed the governor thinks the process "needs to be looked at." Miller questioned whether electronic signatures should be verified by someone other than the people who gave them. And Busch said lawmakers should reconsider the number of signatures required to send a law to the ballot — a threshold, he said, that was set in the days they were collected by going door-to-door.
"It should be fair," Busch said. "I don't think it should be easy; I don't think it should be hard. … We're a representative democracy, and we're sent here to make decisions. We can't have a referendum every time someone doesn't like one."
Part of the success in petitioning the laws in 2012 relied on Hagerstown Del. Neil Parrott, who developed the website mdpetitions.com that allowed voters to download petitions and submit them. His fellow
"This is a fundamental right to the citizens of Maryland. It's an important right that needs to be preserved," said Parrott, who said electronic signatures did not play an outsized role in the petition efforts. "Most of the petitions happened the same way they would have a hundred years ago."
Nonpartisan watch dog group Common Cause said the petition process should be protected, calling Maryland "one of the few states that doesn't have a very robust referendum history."
The group would back reforms that involve better reporting and more accountability about who is financing petition drives, said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland.
Democrats can expect resistance from Republican leaders, who want to reserve the process for high-profile, controversial laws.
"The only reason that they want to raise the threshold is to apparently make it inconvenient," said House Minority Leader Del.
Parrott said he plans to introduce legislation requiring the wording on a referendum petition to match the language on the ballot. He also plans to revive bills that would protect the privacy of people who signed petitions.
A similar measure has already been pre-filed by Del. Barbara Robinson, a Baltimore Democrat. Del. Eric Luedtke, a Democrat from
"The new technology is great because it opens up new avenues for democracy, but it also opens up new avenues for fraud," Luedtke said.