Maryland is killing participatory democracy

As The Sun's recent editorial noted, the right to petition almost no longer exists in Maryland ("Technicalities kill another petition," May 23). The Frederick petition is only the latest in a very long line of petition drives that have failed to qualify for the ballot in recent years.

And this problem affects small political parties as well as ballot questions — currently, all three of Maryland's small parties have lost their status as recognized political parties and are no longer able to nominate candidates for public office. In particular, the Green Party, which has been getting more and more votes in every Baltimore City election, will be unable to nominate candidates for this year's election unless its ballot access is restored by July 1.

But fortunately, political parties are more permanent organizations than referendum and initiative groups, and we have decades of experience with ballot access law. So Maryland's Libertarian and Green Parties have joined together as co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit attempting to reestablish the fundamental right to petition that Maryland voters once enjoyed. The rule in Maryland has always been that whatever our policy differences, we're all in the same boat on ballot access.

Each party submitted about 15,000 petition signatures to regain its political party status to the Maryland State Board of Elections, but election officials will not recertify either party — even though they admit that more than the required 10,000 registered voters have signed each of our petitions. We argue that they are seriously misinterpreting the case law and applying a signature verification standard that is much more strict than is legally justified.

Do we really want only the Democratic and Republican parties to be able to run candidates for public office? No minor party or independent candidates, no initiatives or referenda — and no participatory democracy? We think not.

Doug McNeil, Baltimore

Tim Willard, Gaithersburg

The writers are the plaintiff's representatives for the Maryland Libertarian Party and Green Party, respectively.

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