- The Washington Times - Friday, June 5, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A citizen-led effort failed this week to overturn Maryland’s scheme to hire private companies to run robotic ticketing cameras statewide. The miscarriage points to the need for democratic reforms across the region.

Armed with only clipboards and an Internet connection, Justin Shuy and Daniel Zubairi formed the group Maryland for Responsible Enforcement to gather signatures on a petition that would give voters the final say on deploying speed cameras statewide. In just four weeks, Maryland for Responsible Enforcement gained 4,170 Facebook fans and 16,000 petition signatures. This impressive feat was not enough to overcome the obstacles faced by ordinary citizens interested in exercising a little democracy.

The process works like this. After the Maryland General Assembly passes a law, a clock starts ticking. Referendum proponents have just 30 days to gather 17,883 signatures followed by 35,767 additional signatures 30 days later. The courts require that each signature exactly match the name printed on voter registration forms. If a voter uses his middle initial on the petition but did not do so on his voter registration form, the otherwise valid signature is thrown out. The same zeal for verifying a voter’s identity is absent from the voting process itself.

There was no lack of enthusiasm for this particular referendum drive. The volunteer signature gatherers who spoke to us said nearly everybody they approached was willing to sign. Even those favorably disposed to speed cameras saw no harm in letting the public decide. The volunteers just ran out of time.

That happened because Maryland’s system is built on the premise that politicians know best. Only a well-funded effort of the sort put forward by labor unions can overcome the obstacles. We see little danger in removing hurdles and giving the people more of a chance to veto acts of officials who claim to represent their will. If nothing else, this serves as a check on the arrogance of the political class.

No such check is available to citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the District of Columbia. Their only option is to wait until the next election cycle to throw out the whole lot of officials who ignore public opinion.

It’s obvious why politicians in the District, Maryland and Virginia defend the status quo against referenda. In April, Sulphur, La., held a referendum on speed cameras - 85.6 percent of its residents voted to reject the city council’s decision to install them. Across America, most voters oppose traffic cameras, but politicians want the millions in revenue that photo enforcement hauls in. So much for the democratic process.

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