Md. judge rejects lawsuit challenging redistricting petitions

ANNAPOLIS — A Maryland court on Friday upheld a petition forcing a referendum this fall on the state’s congressional map, but Democrats who challenged the petition have vowed to appeal.

Anne Arundel Circuit Court Judge Ronald A. Silkworth rejected a lawsuit filed by the Maryland Democratic Party against the state Board of Elections, alleging that it erroneously validated thousands of signatures collected using the website MDPetitions.com.

Marylanders for Coherent and Fair Representation led the petition drive and put out a celebratory statement Saturday.

“As we move forward with the Referendum Project, MCFR feels that we have an excellent opportunity to repeal this overtly gerrymandered map,” said Tony Campbell, the group’s president.

Petition organizers gathered 59,201 valid voter signatures this summer, narrowly fulfilling the 55,736 signature requirement for the map to be sent to referendum this November.

State Democrats had argued that MDPetitions.com — a website that allowed signers to print and distribute their own copies of the petition — violated state law by automatically filling out certain parts of the signer’s personal information rather than having the signer write it on their own.

Democrats also argued unsuccessfully that signers cannot act as the distributor of any petition sheet that contains their own signatures.

The Democratic Party has already filed an appeal, party spokesman Matthew Verghese said.

He said the state Court of Appeals must still decide whether to take the case, but that it could begin hearing arguments as soon as Thursday.

Similar arguments were made last year in an unsuccessful lawsuit to remove a referendum question on a state law to grant in-state tuition to some illegal immigrants from the ballot. The controversial law, called the Maryland Dream Act, was passed in 2011 and petitioned to the ballot through signatures partially collected on MDPetitions.com. Casa de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group, initially challenged the petition signatures received through the website, but changed its legal strategy and challenged other portions of the process.

MDPetitions.com was used to get a third question on the November ballot. After Democratic Gov. Martin J. O’Malley signed a law permitting same-sex marriage in the state, petitioners used the site to collect signatures to put the law to a vote. A total of 109,313 signatures were collected, both through the website and by people circulating petitions. The validity of these signatures were not challenged in court.

The last time Maryland voters saw a statewide issue petitioned to the ballot was 1992.

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