Friday, June 13, 2008

Opponents of new transgender law win first round

Judge rules referendum opponents missed deadline

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A Montgomery County judge ruled Wednesday that opponents missed a February deadline to oppose the first batch of signatures introduced to put to referendum a new county law intended to protect transgendered individuals from discrimination.

However, the court battle continued Thursday as parties argued whether enough signatures were valid to put the issue up for a vote.

Jonathan Shurberg, an attorney representing Equality Maryland, argued the Montgomery County Board of Elections erred in calculating 25,001 signatures were needed because it calculated ‘‘active voters” instead of ‘‘registered voters” as appeared to be required by state law.

In addition, Shurberg argued that many of the signatures validated by the elections board should not be counted. He introduced a sheet showing several signatures from different people that all appeared to be signed by the same person who circulated the petition. State law also requires those signing petitions to sign their name as it appears on the voter registration form with either the person’s full name or middle initial.

Attorney Kevin Karpinski, representing the elections board, said that the state board only requires the county board to verify the signatures by making sure they are registered voters.

It is not their job to determine if the signatures were all signed by the same person, he said.

But Shurberg argued that some of the names approved on the petition by the county board were not even registered voters.

If Circuit Judge Robert A. Greenberg decided upon either issue in favor of Equality Maryland, the Citizens for Responsible Government would not have enough signatures to have the referendum on the ballot.

The group opposed to the county’s discrimination law, passed unanimously by the County Council and signed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), collected about 32,000 signatures though the elections board said it needed 25,001 to have the necessary 5 percent of the county’s active voters. He also contended previous court cases require election boards to base the number of signatures off registered voters and not active voters.

The list of registered voters would be significantly higher than so-called active voters so the amount of signatures required also would be much higher.

Shurberg argued roughly 12,500 of the 32,000 signatures collected by the group failed to meet all of the requirements of the state for a referendum petition.

But Greenberg’s initial ruling that the challenge was issued too late for the first batch of signatures turned in knocked the number of disputed signatures down to 6,250.

Equality Maryland would appeal if it loses on the other issues because the elections board had not notified the public it had validated the first batch of signatures until well after the 10 days allowed to challenge them had passed, Shurberg said.

‘‘How do you know when you’re supposed to act?” he said. By not informing the public the first batch of signatures had been validated, it violated the due process rights of the public.

State law only requires the elections board notify the sponsors of the petition that it had certified the signatures and not the public, Karpinski said.

Greenberg also threw out a challenge to the referendum that the wording from the Citizens for Responsible Government was confusing and incorrectly stated what the county had passed.