The meat of the legal arguments appears in Section V, starting at paragraph 31. The first argument is against the petition process as employed by MDPetitions.com — an innovative Web site that allows voters to download petitions with information from voter registration records already populated on the form. This is an important step because Maryland law makes it easy for the state Board of Elections to reject petitions over missing middle initials, missing Zip codes or other common errors.
The MDpetitions.com process minimizes the possibility of such errors. That process is the primary basis for the Maryland Democratic Party’s legal objection. Essentially, the Democrats’ arguments comes down to the meaning of the word “provide.” State law requires that petition signators “Provide the following information to be printed or typed in the appropriate spaces: (a) Date of signing, (b) Signer’s name as it was signed, and (c) Current residence address, including house number, street name, apartment number (if applicable), town and ZIP code.”
Democrats argue that petition signers who used MDPetitions.com to download their petitions did not provide the necessary information — rather MDPetitions.com did. This to be a poor argument, resting as it does on a very specific and inappropriate understanding of the word “provide.” The Democrats clearly argue that a petitioner can only provide the required information if they personally type or write it. But a full reading of Maryland election law concerning petitions makes rather clear that “provide” actually means a petitioner must provide the needed information to the appropriate election authority and the information is to be contained in the petition document.
So, when individuals go to MDPetitions.com, enter their information and download a petition with much of their information already filled in, they are simply taking the steps necessary to provide the proper election authority with the required information. By printing and signing the form, the petitioner has provided the information.
Democrats then turn to the “fraud” argument, claiming: “There are sound policy reasons for requiring ... the petition signer to fill in his or her own information on the form, rather than allowing that information to be filled in by someone else. Anyone — including someone other than the voter — using the MDPetitions.com website who knows the name, zip code and birth date of any Maryland voter could have the website generate a “Pre-Filled Petition Form” with that voter’s information pre-printed, both in the signing block and the circulator’s affidavit. The user (who is not the voter) could then print out the form, sign the voter’s name in the signature space and in the circulator’s affidavit and mail the form to MDPetitions.com for submission to the Secretary of State and State Board.”
Democrats are arguing that the MDPetitions.com has made petition fraud almost as easy as vote fraud — given that it would still be a bit easier to vote as someone else in Maryland than to download a petition pretending to be someone else. This challenge is especially frustrating given that Maryland has just introduced online voter registration. The suggestion that online voter registration is safe but online petition access is a threat to democracy is simply hard to swallow.
In all, I find the arguments put forth by the Maryland Democratic Party to be very weak. That they had to resort to parsing the meaning of “provide” or claiming that a person could not be the sole signator on a petition is evidence of the thin case. The claims of fraud, well, they sound like the same unsubstantiated fraud claims the GOP has used in other states to justify voter ID laws.
A more detailed critique of the legal challenge is available at the FreeStater Blog.
Todd Eberly blogs at The FreeStaterBlog. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.