A petition drive to put the state's new congressional map on the ballot could end Thursday if organizers cannot get all the signatures they need and were still missing Wednesday night.
Petitioners have until Thursday night to submit 18,579 valid voter signatures to the state - one-third of the 55,736 they must submit by June 30 to force a November referendum on the map, which was redrawn last year by state officials and approved by the General Assembly. If Thursday's deadline is not met, the petition drive is over.
Organizers have spent the past two months collecting signatures but said Wednesday they were still short of the 18,579 mark.
Leaders of the drive acknowledged that even if they do reach the threshold, collecting an additional 37,000 signatures in the next month will be a daunting task.
"We're doing everything we can to bring in signatures," said Delegate Neil C. Parrott, Washington Republican and petition organizer. "When people see the map they want to sign, but it's just been tough trying to get the map in front of enough people to see it."
The new map was passed into law in October despite accusations from Republicans that it was gerrymandered by Democratic leaders to help them win the 6th District, which covers much of Western Maryland. Since 1993, the district has been represented by GOP Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett.
Six of the state's eight seats are currently held by Democrats.
Some black and Hispanic Democrats also argued that the map was drawn to dilute minority voter influence in some districts.
A lawsuit challenging the map was thrown out last December by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Opponents hope that a referendum in November could allow voters to reject the map, forcing state officials to craft another one before the 2014 congressional elections.
Supporters of the new map say it has withstood legal inspection, and that most residents are satisfied with the redrawn districts and have moved onto other concerns.
"It's insider baseball for a lot of voters, I think. I didn't even know there was a petition drive on this," said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve, Montgomery Democrat. "The founders of the republic set up the system for redistricting the way they did and we've set up eight districts that are more competitive than they were two years ago."
Mr. Parrott has led the petition effort using both public appearances and the website MDPetitions.com, which allows residents to print and distribute their own copies of the petition.
He said the effort has been overshadowed somewhat by the petition drive against Maryland's same-sex marriage law, which has been led by the Maryland Marriage Alliance.
Gay-marriage opponents said Tuesday they have collected more than 113,000 signatures, twice what they need to get the question on November's ballot.
Mr. Parrott said redistricting petitioners were working frantically Wednesday, calling and emailing potential supporters while reminding people who had signed to turn in their petitions.
Volunteers were in some instances even driving to the homes of signers to get them to correct mistakes they had made when filling out their personal information, Mr. Parrott said.
He added that organizers expect to continue collecting signatures all day Thursday and turn them in Thursday night to the Maryland Secretary of State Office.
"We're counting every last signature," Mr. Parrott said. "We know lots are coming in the mail and we still think we can reach our goal."
If the petition fails, it would be the first defeat for online petitioning in Maryland.
The use of printable online petitions has been considered a major breakthrough in the state, with many observers predicting it will help groups more effectively petition issues to be on the ballot.
Mr. Parrott used online petitions last year to force a referendum this fall on the Dream Act, which would allow many college-age illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates. He has also assisted with the gay-marriage petition, which used the same method.
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