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As Long as We Remember...

February 8, 2013

Referendums are not a loophole!

Joe Charlebois

According to the editorial board of The Frederick News Post, the referendum process – that is an integral part of the state's constitution – is nothing more than a loophole. Nothing could be further from the truth.


The News Post attempts to portray Del. Neil Parrott (R., Washington) and the GOP’s unsuccessful use of the referendum – in the last election – as an irresponsible use of the petition process.


The editorial from February 4th calls for the end of ballot initiatives, asking that politicians make a better effort at crafting a message that resonates with their constituents. Thus would end the critical check against a legislature overstepping their bounds.


If the editorial board of the News Post had their way, this "loophole" would not have allowed for the voters of Maryland to outlaw racial segregation of public accommodations – e.g. hotels and restaurants. This referendum was approved by a vote of 342,715 to 301,505. Chapter 29 became law in 1964.


The editors point out that the three referendum ballot initiatives lost "badly, embarrassingly." It is true that overturning the same-sex marriage, illegal immigrant tuition aid and the gerrymandered district map bills were all defeated handily; but it is not for the press to decide what is worth a ballot initiative, it is up to the people of Maryland.


The referendum was instituted as part of the state constitution in 1915. It has rarely been used, but the process established in the State of Maryland protects the people from legislation that goes against the will of the people.


The News Post weakly points out that it is to be used to counter "legislative overreach. It was never meant to be used as a tool of the minority to derail the wishes of the majority elected by the people."


It may be news to the editors at the News Post; but according to the law, the minority cannot derail the wishes of the majority through referendum. According to election law, the petitioners are only successful when their initiative receives one vote over 50%. At that point a majority of voters would derail the wishes of a majority of legislators, not the vocal minority that the News Post derides.


Democrats in Maryland's General Assembly are currently proposing ways to cut off the use the referendum. They see that – with improved technology – the GOP has been able to garner signatures at a much more effective and accurate rate than times past. Because of this, both Democrats and the News Post are in favor of drastically increasing the number of signatures needed – if not outright eliminating the right of Marylanders – to petition through the referendum process.


Technology may have changed and enabled signatures to be collected more easily, but the State of Maryland has consistently had a significant difference in party affiliation registration.


According to Herbert C. Smith and John T. Willis in their book Maryland Politics and Government – Democrat Dominance, the authors point out that since 1914 – when party affiliation began – the Democrats have out registered Republicans, often times nearing 3 to 1 margins.


With this huge difference in party affiliation, the Democrats in Annapolis often treat the General Assembly as their own playground. The use of the petition to bring forth three separate referendums - although unsuccessful in the past election – should remain as is. It is a valuable tool to keep our legislators in check.


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