Now some leading Democrats are determined to make matters more difficult. Several bills are being drafted that would alter the petition process, including one that would effectively triple the number of signatures required to force a public vote.
Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), the sponsor of that measure, said it would raise the bar to reflect advances in computer technology that have transformed the signature-
“It’s made it much simpler than the framers of that part of the Constitution could have ever imagined,” said Madaleno, whose bill would also reduce the time frame for collecting signatures in some cases. “Technology has changed a lot since 1915.”
Other lawmakers are developing bills that they say will target the potential for fraud when using the newfangled method to enlist petition-signers, in which a Web site supplies much of the information required on the form and suggests other people living at the same address who might want to sign, as well.
Republicans say the whole effort smacks of an Annapolis power grab. Already this session, they have been rankled by a bill introduced by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) that would expand early voting and allow same-day voter registration.
“Anytime a monopoly perceives a threat to their power, they circle the wagons and try to protect it at all costs,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert), who called efforts to alter the petition process “putting a hurdle in front of voters.”
Some Republicans have already identified a few bills during the current 90-day session that they could envision trying to send to referendum, including a repeal of the death penalty and a gun-
control package, both proposed by O’Malley.
Under current practice, a law can be petitioned to referendum with the signatures of 3 percent of the number of voters who participated in the last governor’s election. Laws that involve spending are not subject to referendum.
A Republican-led effort crossed that threshold in 2011 on Maryland’s version of the Dream Act, which grants in-state college tuition rates to certain illegal immigrants. Last year, successful petition drives were also launched on bills allowing same-sex marriage and establishing new congressional districts designed to increase Democratic representation in Congress. All three measures were put on the November ballot. Voters also passed a fourth high-profile measure — an expanded gambling plan — but that appeared before voters at the instigation of the Democratic-led legislature.