DREAM Act Opponents Declare First Victory

By Glynis Kazanjian, for MarylandReporter.com

(July 1, 2011)—Opponents of the Maryland DREAM Act say they have collected more than twice the number of petition signatures needed to put the controversial new law on the 2012 general election ballot.

“No petition has gone to referendum in Maryland in over 20 years. Should all go according to plan, this will be on the ballot,” said Jeff Werner. He is spokesman for MDPetitions.com, a website operating as home base for Maryland citizens trying to overturn the newly passed law granting in-state college tuition rates to illegal immigrants.

According to Werner, MDPetitions.com turned in between 110,000 and 132,000 petition signatures.

Only hours before the final deadline to submit petition signatures to the Secretary of State, Delegates Neil Parrott, R-Washington County, and Pat McDonough, R-Baltimore County, the two organizers leading the repeal effort, turned 50,000 more petition signatures in to the State Board of Elections. The newest batch of petitions easily surpasses the 8,448 remaining signatures needed to meet the state’s requirement of 55,736 certified signatures in order to put the law on the ballot.

Maryland’s version of the DREAM Act grants in-state college tuition rates to qualified undocumented Maryland high school graduates, and narrowly passed the state legislature in April. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley in May, and was scheduled to go into effect Friday.

When petitioners met the state’s first benchmark of 18,579 signatures on May 30, the enactment of the law was delayed.

The State Board of Elections is expected to validate the remaining petition signatures on Tuesday, said State Board spokeswoman Donna Duncan. The petition signatures will then be sent to county election board officials, who will have until July 20 to qualify the signatures. The final tally of signatures will be certified by the state elections board between July 20 and July 22.

The success of the petition drive is indicative of the highly controversial nature of the new law. According to data from the State Board of Elections, in the first batch of the initial 55,000 petition signatures, Democrats made up 29 percent of petition signers. Unaffiliated voters and voters not registered with recognized state parties made up approximately 11 percent, and Republicans represented 59 percent.

The fate of the new law is unknown until voters decide on the issue on the November 2012 general election ballot, but legal challenges are expected between now and then.

The introduction of a new streamlined computer based-petition signature process by MDPetitions.com has created a lot of controversy. There has already been a complaint about the site from American Civil Liberties Union, but no lawsuits have been filed.

Casa de Maryland, an immigrants’ rights advocacy group, sent the State Board a Public Information Act request on June 22, asking for information pertaining to MDPetitions.com, the petitioners, and database information for all submitted petition signatures.

In the letter from Casa attorney Joseph Sandler, he requested “. . . all records in the custody and control of the State Board of Elections that are communications of any form between the state Board or any of its staff or members on the one hand, and Maryland Delegate Neil Parrott (R-Washington Cnty); Md.Petitionscom and Help Save Maryland: and or any offices or employees of MdPetitions.com or Help Save Maryland.” Sandler is the former in-house general counsel for the Democratic National Committee.

CASA already has a disk with the full names, addresses and signatures of 57,500 petition signers, which it received on June 22.

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