Names of petition signers public

Maryland's rarely used referendum mechanism includes a twist few anticipated when they signed petitions over the past two years: All of those names and addresses are public information.

The issue made its way into headlines in recent weeks when Gallaudet University in Washington suspended Angela McCaskill, its diversity officer, amid complaints from other faculty members that she signed the petition to put the same-sex marriage law on the Maryland ballot.

McCaskill says she wasn't taking a stand on the issue of same-sex marriage when she signed the petition to let voters decide — and advocates on both sides of the marriage debate have called for her to be reinstated.

The case has become Exhibit A for some about why the names of signators should be suppressed.

--Check out The Sun's online listing of signers for the marriage referendum, the Dream Act vote and the challenge to the state's new congressional districts.

The Maryland Catholic Conference opposes publicizing the names for fear that signers will be intimidated. "Look no further than what happened to a highly respected, senior official of Gallaudet University,who has been put on administrative leave simply because she signed the petition to bring same-sex marriage to ballot," said Kathy Dempsy, a spokeswoman.

State Del. Neil Parrott, a Western Maryland Republican who was involved in all three successful drives to put issues on the Nov. 6 ballot, offered legislation to make the names secret. The bill did not get out of committee.

Others see the transparency as a needed check on the state agencies that determine whether a petition effort passes or fails. Maryland law requires that petitions be public, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that petition signers do not have a right to keep their names sealed.

There is "more opportunity to mess with the voter count if the process is secret," said state Del. Michael Smigiel, an Eastern Shore Republican.

Smigiel was part of the effort in 2011 to petition to referendum the state's Dream Act, which would let some illegal immigrants pay in-state college tuition rates. Concerned that a Democratic-appointed Board of Elections might inappropriately disqualify names to skew the results, he posted on his website lists people whose signatures were rejected.

Voters from across the state, including elected officials and election judges, were shocked to learn that their names had been tossed when they found their names on his list, he said.

"We have in place legal mechanisms for people who violate your first amendment rights," Smigiel said. "There are no mechanisms available to let you know that you've been rejected unfairly."

Roughly 56,000 names are needed to trigger a referendum, or 3 percent of the turnout from the last gubernatorial election. The Dream Act petition garnered 126,000, the same-sex marriage law got 162,000 and an effort to overturn the new congressional map drew 65,000 signers.

Annie Linskey

Again, you can click here to view the signers of the marriage referendum, the Dream Act vote and the challenge to the state's new congressional districts.

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