A petition drive seeking a referendum on Maryland's congressional map faces its final deadline this weekend, and organizers said Thursday they are still scrambling to gather the necessary signatures.
Petitioners have until Saturday night to submit 55,736 valid voter signatures in order to force a November vote on the map, which was drawn by Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, and approved last year by both houses of the Democrat-dominated General Assembly.
Organizers turned in nearly 27,000 of those signatures on May 31 after two months of work, setting up the tall task of collecting 29,000 more in June — a goal petitioners say they are approaching but still need a late push to reach.
"Right now, we're more concerned with getting signatures than mounting a political campaign," petition chairman Delegate Neil C. Parrott, Washington Republican, said Thursday afternoon. "I am cautiously optimistic, but we have not reached our goal yet."
State law required petition organizers to submit 18,579 signatures by the end of May to keep the drive going. Organizers reported they were short of the needed number on the morning of the required turn-in date, but they ended up submitting 26,763 signatures that night after a day of reaching out to new signers and encouraging previous supporters to seek signatures from friends.
Mr. Parrott declined Thursday to say how many signatures have been collected.
Republicans have led criticism of the map and have been joined by some black Democrats.
The groups argue that the map was drawn unfairly by Democratic leaders to help the party win seven of the state's eight congressional seats and to limit the state to two majority-minority districts.
Critics say a third majority-minority district should have been added to reflect the state's growing black and minority population.
"The map clearly doesn't make any sense," said Tony Campbell, president of Marylanders for Coherent and Fair Representation and former chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee. "This is more of an educational process, but as we've been able to show the map to people, we've been successful."
The map's defenders insist that it accurately reflects changes in population and makes virtually all of the state's districts more competitive. They also point out that the map has stood up to a legal challenge over its constitutionality, receiving a favorable District Court ruling last year that was upheld this week by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The rules governing congressional redistricting are generally less strict than those for redrawing state legislative maps.
While Maryland's General Assembly districts must be compact and avoid unnecessary crossing of county lines and bodies of water, the primary requirement for the state's congressional districts is that they be equal in population.
Democratic leaders and some political analysts have suggested thatMarylanders have largely moved on from congressional redistricting — which was completed during a special session in October — and that the issue is unlikely to gain nearly as much interest or passionate debate as other ballot initiatives such as same-sex marriage and the Dream Act.
"It's insider baseball for a lot of voters, I think," House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve, Montgomery Democrat, said recently.
Map supporters have questioned petitioners' logic because if the map goes to referendum and is rejected by voters, the governor and assembly would once again be in charge of drawing a new map in time for the 2014 elections.
While redistricting would be controlled by the same people, Mr. Parrott said he thinks a repeat of the process would put elected officials on notice to draw a fairer map looking toward 2014, an election year in which the governor's office and all legislators' seats will be up for grabs.
"When the voters speak, the governor and leaders of the legislature will be forced to come up with a map that makes sense," he said. "If they don't, it will be at their own peril."
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