Maryland Democrats have filed a legal challenge to efforts to overturn the state’s new congressional districts.
A complaint filed Tuesday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court alleges that more than 5,000 of the signatures collected are invalid because some voter information was filled in by a computer and because some signatures were not properly witnessed by the person circulating the petition.
If the court agrees that enough of those signatures are invalid, the map will not appear before voters this fall, said Matthew Verghese, spokesman for the state Democrats.
A total of 56,736 signatures were needed to put the issue before voters this fall. The petition drive ultimately produced 59,201 valid signatures, with 7,649 signatures rejected, according to the State Board of Elections.
Many of the signatures were collected through MDPetitions.com, a website run by Del. Neil Parrott (R-Dist. 2B) of Hagerstown, which offered a “pre-filled” petition -- with voters’ names, addresses and birth dates already printed -- to sign and mail in, according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs, which include the Maryland Democratic Central Committee and five individual residents, argue that individuals needed to print that information themselves.
“The State Board of Elections failed to fairly apply [constitutional] standards and inappropriately approved thousands of signatures that violated the definitive requirements set forth in law and regulation,” David Sloan, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said in a statement. “Maryland voters will undoubtedly see this effort as a transparent attempt by Republicans to subvert legislative procedure and impose a radical, tea party agenda."
Last month, the Supreme Court summarily affirmed a U.S. District Court decision to uphold the new districts, which were adopted by the General Assembly last fall.
The new map split up Montgomery County, moved Democratic Rep. Donna F. Edwards’ 4th District into Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, extended Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr.’s (D) 8th District into Frederick and Carroll counties, extended the 3rd District represented by Rep. John Sarbanes (D) into Montgomery from the Baltimore area and pushed the Republican-held 6th District farther into Montgomery.
Parrott said it was disappointing that Democrats were trying to suppress the vote in Maryland and that the complaint against the Board of Elections meant taxpayers would end up footing the bill for defending the petition in court.
Tony Campbell, president of Marylanders for Coherent & Fair Representation, one of the groups that sought to overturn the map, said that he had anticipated a legal challenge from Democrats.
Both Campbell and Parrott said concerns about online signature-gathering were initially raised during petition efforts to put the Maryland Dream Act, which offers in-state college tuition to some undocumented immigrants, on the ballot.
A legal challenge to that petition ultimately hinged on the argument that the Dream Act was an appropriations bill and not subject to referendum.
In June, the state Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's rejection of that argument, and the measure will appear on the ballot in November.
A legal challenge is not expected to a petition to place the state’s new same-sex marriage law on the ballot. That petition drive collected nearly double the amount of valid signatures needed, plus nearly 40,000 signatures that the board did not bother to verify.