Maryland voters appear likely to get the final word on the state’s highly partisan and racially charged plan to redraw Maryland’s congressional districts.
The state’s Board of Elections reported Wednesday that a Republican-led petition drive to force a referendum on the map narrowly passed the threshold of nearly 56,000 signatures needed to place the issue on the November ballot.
Court challenges from Democrats are likely, but if the count holds, congressional redistricting would join same-sex marriage and the Dream Act as the third in a volatile trifecta of referenda on Maryland’s November ballot.
Redistricting lacks the emotion surrounding the state’s ballot questions on whether to legalize gay marriage, or to extend in-state tuition breaks to illegal immigrants. But analysts said the effort could draw limited national fundraising from groups focused on upending incumbents of all stripes, as well as from Republicans intent on maintaining control of Congress.
Over objections from Republicans and some minorities, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Democrats in the General Assembly approved the once-a-decade redistricting plan last fall. It shifted hundreds of thousands of voters in the rapidly growing Washington suburbs to a Western Maryland district long controlled by Republicans.
The plan has forced 10-term Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett to seek reelection in a district that gained nearly 350,000 mostly liberal voters in Montgomery County, and that is now expected to lean Democratic.
Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D), who no longer represents the county, publicly denounced the plan last fall. She and a handful of other minority lawmakers charged it would dilute the voting power of blacks, Hispanics and Asians in the majority-minority county. After it was approved, Edwards dropped her opposition and said she supported the larger effort to win back a House seat for Democrats.
In passing the plan, Democratic state lawmakers also rebuffed harsh criticism from the League of Women Voters of Maryland, Common Cause and a handful of residents who testified against it. Most said they were appalled at the partisanship that appeared to be driving the plan. Others said that devising districts to further tilt Maryland’s current 6 to 2 majority for Democrats to 7 and 1 would further polarize an already paralyzed Congress.
As with the successful efforts to petition the legislature’s approval of same-sex marriage and the Dream Act, the redistricting referendum was aided by a new Web site set up by Del. Neil Parrott (R-Washington). It allowed opponents to file signatures with the help of an online tool.
Before this year, it had been 20 years since a measure qualified for a statewide referendum in Maryland.
As of Wednesday, elections officials reported the valid signature total for opponents of the redistricting plan stood at 56,342, with 7,061 having been rejected as invalid.
Approximately 3,000 signatures remain to be counted and verified, elections officials said. The state Board of Elections is expected to certify the results and declare the tally sufficient to send the measure to the ballot by Friday.