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July 6, 2012

Referendums Protect State’s Constitution

Joe Charlebois

Maryland’s Constitution provides its citizens an opportunity to bring forth petitions to allow referendums to be put on the ballot that would overturn current legislation. It should remain that way.


Recently has completed its third attempt at getting a referendum on this November’s ballot. The petition process is one of the only recourses that the people of Maryland have to correct what they see as out-of-control legislation.


Del. Neil Parrott (R., Washington) who is the chairman of has spearheaded the online petition process that allows for the efficient gathering of signatures. The success of recent referendum petitions has many in Annapolis questioning if Maryland’s Constitution should be amended to make it more difficult to get a referendum on the ballot.


The current measure, which has been approved for addition to November’s ballot, is the “In-State Tuition Referendum” which looks to overturn Maryland’s “Dream Act.” This legislation would guarantee illegal immigrants in-state tuition while attending Maryland colleges and universities.


The second of the three referendums is already under review.  It is the Same-Sex Marriage Referendum. This would look to invalidate the legislation passed by the General Assembly that would allow same-sex couples the legal right to marry.


The third referendum petition drive has just been completed.  This is an attempt to have the recently redrawn congressional districts map overturned by Maryland’s voters. Supporters of redistricting come from all points along the political spectrum.


So, why are veto referendums important to the citizens of Maryland?


Yes, because portions of Maryland continue to lose political influence. Though recently “rediscovered” by the conservative minority in Maryland, the need for a veto referendum has grown dramatically since the “one man, one vote” rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren.


The decisions of the Warren Court in the early 1960’s essentially eliminated states’ ability to maintain a checks and balance system modeled after the United States Congress – one in which each state is represented by an equal number of legislators without regard to the population that resides within its geographical boundaries.


States like Maryland, which has large urban centers surrounded by lightly populated counties, have seen political power in rural communities dwindle.


As concerned citizens have shown an increased level of success in using this method of redress, those in power in Annapolis’ left have looked into ways of limiting the ability of citizens to put veto referendums before the electorate.


In fact, freshman Del. Eric Luedtke, (D., Montgomery) has looked to tighten the noose on the minority and its ability to bring forth referendums. Delegate Luedtke introduced in the House of Delegates’ Ways and Means Committee a proposal to increase the number of signatures needed to place a referendum on the ballot. Thankfully the measure failed in the Ways and Means Committee.


Without a significant change to the electoral makeup of the State of Maryland, the referendum process remains the only method of citizen participation outside the right to vote.


Any effort to minimize or eliminate the rights of citizens under the Maryland Constitution, by restricting their ability to petition their government, should be met with outrage and contempt as this remains an extremely valuable Constitutional check on government overreach.


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