- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Organizers of a petition against Maryland’s new congressional map said Thursday night they have gathered enough signatures to meet a state deadline and continue their drive through the end of June.

Delegate Neil C. Parrott, the petition’s chief organizer, said volunteers have collected about 25,000 voter signatures in an effort to force a November referendum on the map.

The map was redrawn last year by state officials and approved by the General Assembly.

Organizers had until Thursday to submit at least 18,579 valid voter signatures to the Maryland Secretary of State Office in order to keep the drive alive and allow them to continue striving toward the state’s final requirement of 55,736 signatures by June 30.

The signatures must now be verified by the state Board of Elections.

Organizers spent all of Thursday urging last-minute support from voters and said they hope they have enough extra signatures to withstand the likely invalidation of some from signing errors.

“Over the last couple of weeks things have really been building,” said Mr. Parrott, Washington Republican. “The map doesn’t make sense and when people see it doesn’t make sense, they want to sign it.”

The petition drive has been organized mostly by Republicans who argue that state Democratic leaders intentionally drew the congressional district map to benefit their party and help them gain a seventh of the state’s eight congressional seats.

It has also received some support from black Democrats who say the map dilutes black influence in many districts.

If the map is put to referendum and rejected by voters, state leaders and the General Assembly would have to draw a new map in time for the 2014 elections.

Mr. Parrott acknowledged earlier this week that organizers were still short of their signature mark and suggested that the effort has been overshadowed somewhat by a petition drive to force a referendum on same-sex marriage, which has drawn more than 120,000 signatures.

On Thursday, organizers of the redistricting petition asked potential supporters to make a late push for signatures, encouraging signatures to be delivered just before the midnight deadline.

They advertised a last-minute signature drop-off in Hagerstown for delivery to Annapolis, and also asked voters to drop off petitions at the Annapolis jewelry store owned by Delegate Ron A. George, Anne Arundel Republican.

Petitioners likely will not know Thursday’s milestone was met because the signatures must be validated by the state Board of Elections.

The board typically throws out hundreds, if not thousands, of signatures because of errors made by signers, such as forgetting a middle initial or failing to provide a current address.

Mr. Parrott also said organizers hope they’ll have enough signatures to withstand a possible lawsuit from opponents if the state rules the petition to be successful.

“We have to make sure we have an educated estimate,” he said.

The petition effort has looked like a long shot throughout much of the process, as opponents and political analysts have expressed doubt whether voters truly have enough interest in redistricting to call for a redrawing of the state’s congressional districts.

Even if petitioners clear Thursday’s hurdle, they would still have to collect more than 30,000 signatures in the next month, requiring them to collect signatures at a much faster rate than they have over the past two months.

Todd Eberly, coordinator of public policy studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said there simply isn’t enough public interest to sustain the petition drive.

He said gerrymandering has caused much of the polarization in Congress today and citizens should be concerned, but most only have a vague idea of how the process works.

“It is an issue that the public simply does not care about,” he said in an email, later adding, “It takes a hot-button issue to get the signatures required to get to the ballot.”

• David Hill can be reached at dhill@washingtontimes.com.

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