Opponents of the new Maryland congressional map met their petition deadline Saturday night, turning in what they believe to be enough names to force a November referendum.
Petitioners turned in a total of 65,722 signatures, surpassing the statutorily required 55,736 by 9,959.
Sixteen minutes before Saturday's midnight deadline, they submitted 36,267 new signatures, in hopes of forcing a vote on the redistricting map, said Tony Campbell, president of Marylanders for Coherent and Fair Representation. They had already submitted almost 27,000 signatures before the May 31 preliminary deadline.
If the signatures are valid, it will give voters the chance to reject the new map, which was approved by the General Assembly last year and is being used for this year's election.
"I'm optimistic that we have enough signatures and that voters will vote on this," said Delegate Neil Parrott, Washington Republican. He led the online petition drive through his website, MDPetitions.com. "It did come down to the wire, but the people of Maryland responded."
A Thursday night email explaining the need for more signers and a big push on Saturday led to "thousands of signatures in the last couple of days," Mr. Parrott said.
The most signatures came from Anne Arundel County, with 13,514 signatures total, and Baltimore County, with 10,389 names total - both of which are divided among four districts on the redistricting map.
The congressional map was drawn by a five-member committee appointed by Democrat Gov. Martin O'Malley.
Opponents of the new district lines say they divide communities and minorities, calling them an attempt by Democrats to gerrymander the state.
Mr. Parrott said that to persuade voters to reject the new map, all they need to do is show it to them.
"You gave us a lemon of a map. We're saying, 'Give us a good one,'" Mr. Parrott said.
Though opponents turned in enough signatures to meet the deadline, the State Board of Elections has until July 22 to verify them. In order to be valid, each petition signer has to be a registered voter and give his or her full name, date of signing and current address.
"Chances are we don't need all that time," said Mary Cramer Wagner, director of voter registration for the State Board of Elections. Daily counts of valid signatures will be posted on the board's website under "petitions" about 4 p.m. each day, she said.
Even if the issue makes it to the ballot in November, Mr. O'Malley's office is not worried.
"We're very confident in our map," said Raquel Guillory, Mr. O'Malley's spokeswoman.
In December, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a lawsuit that said the map was drawn toillegally dilute minority influence. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that ruling.
Mr. Campbell said he thinks this issue will be an easier sale than other referendums on November's ballot, such as same-sex marriage and the immigration Dream Act.
"When we get to November, this map will be the least confrontational of the three of them," he said.
Mr. Campbell said the next step is to raise "as much money as I possibly can." His plan for the next four months is to make phone calls to local people interested in their representation, and national groups that want the state in Republican hands. In this way, he said, he hopes to raise six figures to fund voter education about the map.
Mr. Parrott will try to partner with voter advocacy and transparency groups to get the word out.
Mr. O'Malley has no plans for a countercampaign, Ms. Guillory said.
"We submitted our map, it has passed. They're the ones challenging it," she said.
Should voters reject the map in the fall, most of the same state officials will reconvene to draw a new one.
Mr. Campbell said the referendum is just the first step.
He hopes to get two bills dealing with the redistricting process through the General Assembly next year. One would create an independent redistricting committee, and the other would make the congressional map standards similar to the state legislative ones, requiring that districts are "compact and contiguous." Similar bills were proposed this year, but died at the committee level.
"You have to be cognizant of county boundaries," Mr. Campbell said.
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