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News Opinion Readers Respond

Make the petition process easier, not harder

Your report on moves to change state referendum procedures repeatedly refers to "electronic signatures" ("Petition process under scrutiny," Jan. 9). That is a misnomer.

It would be nice if in the 21st century we were allowed to petition our government in a modern way. But in fact the voter must sign a physical piece of paper with a pen. The only part of the process that can be interpreted as "electronic" is that the petition form itself is created individually, with the name and address fields filled in with information extracted from the state's voter registration database.

That procedure did not evolve in a vacuum. It was created because the state was invalidating an exorbitant number of signatures for minor reasons — such as leaving out a middle initial — when previously such restrictions had not been applied.

It is difficult to walk up to a voter on the street who can recall information precisely as is recorded in the state's files. Personalizing a petition form merely improves accuracy and assists in the state's onerous validation process.

The brouhaha over the governor and others' rebellion against citizen's having the effrontery to challenge new laws results from its application to the referendum process. Lost in the dust is the fact that third parties must come up with 10,000 petition signatures merely to be recognized by the state — and the same stringent rules are applied to these petitions, too. (The 10,000 signatures are required despite the fact that a third party may have more than that number of registered members.)

In the case Libertarian Party of Maryland and Maryland Green Party v. Maryland State Board of Elections, a state circuit court judge ruled that the signature requirements were in fact overly restrictive. He was using common sense, but the Maryland Court of Appeals overruled him in a unanimous decision that was clearly politically driven.

Electronically generated petitions are merely a consequence of how difficult it is to meet the state-mandated requirements. What is really needed is a revision of the petition laws in a way that enhances, rather than diminishes, the rights of Maryland citizens.

Robert E. Glaser, Owings Mills

The writer is secretary of the Maryland Libertarian Party.

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