Activists trying to trigger a referendum on Maryland's new congressional map were within striking distance of their goal Monday, with the state's Board of Elections accepting 46,700 names after analyzing about 80 percent of the signatures submitted.
The count shows that the repeal effort, led by Republican Del. Neil Parrott of Western Maryland, is close to the goal, though success is not assured. Maryland law requires 55,736 valid signatures to trigger a referendum.
Republicans have argued that the new map is a gerrymandered swirl of lines, drawn to add a seventh Democrat to the state's eight-member delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives and to give Democratic incumbents the neighborhoods they desired.
Democrats argue that Maryland's uneven borders make it difficult to draw regularly shaped districts, though privately few will defend the oddly shaped 3rd Congressional District, which snakes through three counties and Baltimore City.
The map's opponents need 9,036 of the remaining 12,340 signatures to be ruled valid to trigger a vote on the map in November's election. So far, 90 percent of the signatures submitted by Parrott's group have been accepted. If that pattern holds, the effort would succeed with a cushion of about 2,000 signatures.
"They've got it," said Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College. He said there is "no reason" the acceptance rate should change suddenly toward the end of the counting process.
Still Republicans will need all extra names they can muster. Maryland's cash-rich Democratic Party has hinted that it would challenge signatures in court and try to have additional names tossed out.
Donna Duncan of the Board of Elections said the verification process could be completed by the end of the week.