HB 493

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People of the Solution

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

We suffer for our art. Yesterday, I sat through four excruciating hours of legislative hearings before the Ways and Means Committee of Maryland’s House of Delegates. I was waiting to testify on behalf of Citizens in Charge against House Bill 493.

For 20 years before last November, not a single referendum made it onto the Maryland ballot. Why? The state has the country’s most draconian rules for verifying petition signatures. An attorney running his own petition effort had his signature disallowed because he did not sign one of his two middle names or write the initial.

Most states use the standard of “substantial compliance” — if they can tell it is the signature of the registered voter, they count it, even if it doesn’t appear exactly as written on the voter registration record. Maryland’s strict compliance, on the other hand, disallows the signature of “Joe” rather than “Joseph.”

But you can’t keep good people down. A group called MDPetitions.com, led by Delegate Neil Parrott and April Parrott, his wife, found a way to provide online help in filling out the petition correctly, so that people’s signatures could count. They petitioned three separate bills to referendums last November by working both online and on the streets.

They lost all three, but in the process they brought the right to referendum back to life in Maryland.

Which brings me back to House Bill 493, against which I finally got to speak for five minutes. Among its myriad provisions to knee-cap petition efforts, most distressing is the one making it illegal to provide citizens with their voter registration information to help them fill out a referendum petition online.

Yes, the legislature is in session.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.