Organizers of a petition drive to repeal Maryland's Dream Act have even surprised themselves by apparently collecting nearly 62,500 signatures - more than three times the minimum for the first deadline.
"This far exceeds where we thought we'd be at this point," Delegate Neil C. Parrott, Washington County Republican, who has led the petition drive, said Wednesday. "A lot of people pushed hard this last weekend."
Petitioners were required to submit 18,579 valid voter signatures by Tuesday and still must submit 55,736 such signatures by June 30.
If state and local election boards determine both goals to be met, the Dream Act, which would provide in-state tuition rates to some children of illegal immigrant, would be suspended and decided by a November 2012 statewide vote.
The election boards, which now have three weeks to review the signatures, typically throw out hundreds of signatures owing to errors and technicalities. Petitioners initially sought to collect 35,000 signatures by Tuesday and about 100,000 by the end of June.
No Maryland petition drive has forced a statewide referendum since 1992, but anti-Dream Act organizers said they have been buoyed by a tool that often goes unused in petition efforts - the Internet.
Many Dream Act opponents were able to print and circulate their own copies of the petition from mdpetitions.com, which organizers described as a first for a petition drive in Maryland.
They estimated on Tuesday afternoon that they had more than 40,000 total signatures, but spent much of the day counting mailed-in petitions that brought their total to 62,496, according to a count provided by organizers to the state Board of Elections.
Baltimore County had the most signatures of any jurisdiction with 14,307, while Anne Arundel County was second with 8,586 signatures.
If the Dream Act goes to referendum, supporters and opponents would likely have to mount costly advertising campaigns to sway public opinion on the issue. Mr. Parrott said the petition drive has thus far cost less than $5,000.
Delegate Patrick L. McDonough, a Baltimore Republican assisting in the petition effort, has also indicated he will file a lawsuit challenging the law, even if opponents force a referendum.
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