- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — A petition effort to put Maryland’s same-sex marriage law on the November ballot is expected to meet a key deadline next week, but a lesser-known petition campaign could be struggling to the finish.

Petitioners have until May 31 to turn in 18,579 valid voter signatures — equal to one-third of the 55,736 they must submit by June 30 to the state Board of Elections to suspend a law and force it to referendum.

Organizers of the anti-gay-marriage petition say they already have more than 35,000 signatures. But a petition by many of the same organizers to throw out the state’s newly drawn congressional map will need a late push to meet next week’s deadline.

“We’re in an all-out sprint,” said organizer and Delegate Neil C. Parrott, Washington Republican who declined to say how many signatures he has collected. “We know we’ve got a really important weekend ahead of us.”

Gay marriage and redistricting could join a crowded field of ballot questions, which already includes the Dream Act — a 2011 state law that would allow many college-age illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition but was successfully petitioned to referendum last year.

Voters also could decide this Election Day whether to legalize table games and allow casino in Prince George’s County if the General Assembly passes enabling legislation during its expected special session in July.

The Dream Act, gay-marriage and redistricting petition drives have all been organized in part by Mr. Parrott and other House Republicans using the website mdpetitions.com, which allows residents to print and distribute their own copies of petitions.

The Maryland Marriage Alliance has taken the lead on the gay-marriage petition, which supporters and opponents have said is almost certain to reach a referendum.

The redistricting petition would potentially allow voters to reject a congressional map crafted last year by state Democratic leaders and approved by the assembly.

If the map is rejected by voters, state officials would have to repeat the process, drawing and approving a new map that would go into effect in the 2014 election.

GOP leaders have blasted the approved map, arguing that it was gerrymandered to help Democrats, who control six of the state’s eight congressional seats, to gain a seventh seat.

They have been joined by some black leaders who say the map dilutes minority influence in some districts — forming an alliance similar to the one against gay marriage, which has been led by Republicans and socially conservative blacks.

“Our communities are divided, minority groups are diluted and the geographical borders just don’t make sense,” Mr. Parrott said.

State Democrats have denied the charge, pointing out that the map has withstood all legal challenges.

“Throughout the entire process, the governor and his staff followed the letter and spirit of the law,” said Raquel Guillory, spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat. “We believe the map is fair and accurately reflects Maryland’s racial diversity and population trends.”

Observers say the petition drive has struggled to gain traction because the issue of redistricting lacks the same national significance and heavy publicity as the Dream Act or gay marriage.

Additionally, many voters were unaware or have since forgotten about the map, which was approved last October.

If petitioners reach their mark next week, organizers would still likely need a couple thousand extra signatures, as many are expected to be invalidated due to errors.

About 132,000 people signed last year’s Dream Act petition but more than 23,000 signatures — a little more than one in every six — were invalidated.