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Congressional map opponents turn in 36K signatures

A Republican-led effort to overturn Maryland's new Congressional map has theoretically turned in enough signatures to trigger a state-wide referendum, but the margin is so tight that it is still unclear if the issue will go to voters.

The group, led by Del. Neil Parrott, filed a final batch of 36,267 signatures to the Maryland Secretary of State's Office late Saturday evening, according to documents obtained by The Sun. That brings the total number of signatures turned in to 63,030. The petitions were handed in by a frenzied last minute push, documented by my colleague Childs Walker.

The effort could snatch a victory from Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is being lauded by his party nationally for creating a map that gives Democrats a good chance of picking up a Congressional seat this fall. And it could give the state's minority Republican party new standing in Annapolis, showing that they can threaten "inside baseball" laws in addition to headline grabbing ones like in-state tuition for some illegal immigrants and same-sex marriage.

The Republicans have argued that the new map is an unfair partisan gerrymander. They've also said that it unfairly cuts up communities to satisfy the whims of Democratic incumbents, who agreed to awkwardly shaped districts. One district, held by U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, was described by Judge Paul V. Niemeyer of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as "reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state."

It remains far from certain that voters will ever have the chance to weigh-in. The Republicans fell short of their self-imposed goal of gathering 75,000 names. The opponents, at this point, has 7,294 more signatures than the 55,736 required to trigger the referendum.

In the first batch of signatures filed last month, about 9 percent were tossed out by the state Board of Elections as invalid. If the group can hold that rate for the second batch, they will have enough. However, it is unlikely that the success rate will be as high, given the last minute frenzy.

Even if the state Board of Elections certifies the results, it the Democratic party would probably challenge the state board's ruling in court and could get additional signatures tossed.

And should the GOP prevail and defeat the Congressional map, it is not clear that they'd pick up a member of Congress. Democratic leaders in the state would likely re-create a map that gives their party a fighting chance for a 7-1 split in the Congressional delegation.

Democratic leaders would, however, probably feel pressure to unscramble the jumbled lines in the state's left leaning areas.

And, should the Democrats feel genuinely threatened by the new-found GOP power of referendum, they can always change the law and increase the number of signatures needed to trigger a state-wide vote.

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