Many Maryland politicians spritz on Eau de Hypocrisy at least occasionally. But Gov. Martin O'Malley and fellow Democrats bathed in it with their support for the inaccurately labeled Referendum Integrity Act, an effort to make it harder for citizens to petition a law to referendum.
House Bill 493 (SB 673), sponsored by Del. Eric Luedtke, a Democrat from Montgomery County, should be called the "Voter Suppression Act," as that is its clear intent.
Among its highlights:
•It requires that each petition page contain language saying that the information is subject to public disclosure and requires each signer to include a birth date.
•It requires the sponsor of a petition to form a campaign finance committee for each law that is petitioned.
•It requires petition circulators to take a training course and prohibits circulators from being paid per signature.
Petitioning a state law to ballot is already an extremely difficult and expensive process. The three that made it last year were the first in 20 years. The added hurdles contained in the bill ensure that challenging a law is even more costly, time consuming and complex. For example, with identity fraud rampant, who wants to put their birth date on anything? And after gay rights activists publicized the names of those who signed a petition to bring the gay marriage law to a vote of the people, the declaration serves as a warning to any who would dare challenge a law crafted by the Democratic majority. Gallaudet University administrator Angela McCaskill, for example, nearly lost her job for signing the petition. The school suspended her but thankfully reinstated her in January.
The bill also discourages those who circulate petitions from maximizing signatures collected, and it does this for no legitimate purpose. Since signatures go through a rigorous analysis before they are certified, prohibiting petition groups from paying by the signature will only drive up costs by requiring groups to hire more people to get the job done.
What makes this piece of legislation particularly appalling is the fact that Gov. O'Malley and his party have made increasing voter access one of their key missions. In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama said, "Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote." And as Governor O'Malley wrote recently, "We need to do everything we can to improve access to voting and encourage Marylanders to exercise their most fundamental right."
To that end, Governor O'Malley has pushed legislation (HB224/SB279) to allow voters to register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day and expand early voting and the number of early voting centers. The bill would also extend access to absentee ballots online. But after the election, he said the current referendum process is "a little too easy." He added, "There was a requirement that required 50,000 actual physical signatures. Because of the Internet, that has been so easy to do electronically that the legislature probably needs to revisit that."
Why is the Internet good for his legislation but bad for those who seek to challenge Democratic hegemony?
It's simple. He wants to limit competition, even in this one-party state. But he and the bill's sponsor, Delegate Luedtke, won't admit that. According to a report in Maryland Reporter, Delegate Luedtke said, "The goal of the bill is to make the process fair, accountable and free of fraud."
The problem with that argument is that Democrats don't believe in voter fraud. They have long championed access over the integrity of the vote. President Bill Clinton signed 1993 legislation, known as the Motor Voter law, that allows people to register to vote when they get a driver's license or apply for social services. Not everyone who gets a driver's license or welfare is a citizen or someone who is allowed to live here, but that has never concerned them because those "new Americans" tend to like Democrats. They vehemently deny fraud exists unless it slaps them in the face, as in the case of Wendy Rosen. She ran against Republican Andy Harris in Maryland's First Congressional District race last year but withdrew when outed as having voted illegally in Florida.
If increased voter access is the goal, then it should be granted for all, not just for those most likely to increase the power of those who rule. Any other position just highlights the contempt the majority party has for those who dare to challenge the status quo.
Marta H. Mossburg writes frequently about national affairs and about politics in Maryland, where she lives. Write her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @mmossburg.