Maryland: The Referendum State

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If you haven’t voted in a while, you’ll have the chance to really get your fill this November. In addition to electing the president, one senator, and our entire slate of representatives in the House, Marylanders will consider three constitutional amendments (concerning Orphans’ Court judge qualifications and circumstances under which an elected official may be removed from office), and veto referendums on in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants (who meet certain criteria), same-sex marriage, and now, likely, the state’s gerrymandered congressional districts.

Maryland hasn’t seen a veto referendum since 1992. The rules haven’t changed (you need a number of signatures equal to three percent of voter turnout in the last gubernatorial election — right now that’s 55,736), but as Republicans have discovered, the Internet has made the signatures much easier to collect.

For Democrats, this might feel a little like the moment in Jurassic Park when the velociraptors learn to open doors — cause for panic. And indeed, the Democratic Party is considering challenging the validity of signatures collected online, which would squash all three referendums (though the whole idea seems a little desperate and far-fetched).

As a supporter of marriage equality and the Dream Act, certainly I would feel relief if those issues were stricken from the ballot on a technicality. But are referendums, in themselves, really such a bad thing? Don’t they at the very least increase accountability for our lawmakers? What do you think — is it too easy to put an issue on the ballot?

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  1. My husband and I left Michigan to come here because the citizens of that state voted to limit marriage recognition in such a way that my husband’s health benefits were at stake. This was put on the ballot by petition after the legislature failed repeatedly to sanction writing discrimination into the state constitution. So pardon me if I have a jaundiced view of referenda where the majority are invited to vote on the rights of the minority. I think there is something good about representational government. At least in principle the elected legislators are tasked to carefully consider the legislation they pass on the behalf of their constituents. Having stood outside a polling station in the rain trying to forestall an abrogation of my rights, I can say that most people I spoke with had no idea that the issue was even being voted upon. That makes it hard to trust that they were making an informed political decision. I am glad that our state only provides for quite limited ballot measures, but I would be happier with less direct democracy thank you very much.

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