Appeal Alleges “The ballot language was unlawfully misleading because it failed to describe the ‘true nature’ of Senate Bill 1, which was political gerrymandering.”
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it has filed an appeal with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals on behalf of MDPetitions.com against Maryland Secretary of State John McDonough and the State Board of Elections asking the appellate court to order a new vote on Question 5, a November 2012 referendum on the state’s gerrymandered congressional redistricting plan. The lawsuit alleges that ballot language certified by Secretary of State McDonough was “misleading and insufficient as a matter of law.” The appeal was filed on Tuesday, March 19, 2013.
In the appeal filed on behalf of MDPetitions.com, Judicial Watch argues:
The ballot language gave the voters of Maryland no idea they were being asked to approve some of the most gerrymandered districts in the United States. The language (and therefore, the vote) was illegal and in violation of the Maryland Constitution because it failed to apprise voters of the true nature of the redistricting, and because it failed to inform voters of the broad scope of the changes to the existing congressional districts.
Judicial Watch and MDPetitions.com asked the Court of Appeals to reverse a September, 2012, Circuit Court decision upholding the ballot language and remand the case to the Circuit Court with instructions to order a new election on Question 5. “The only sufficient remedy for this illegality,” the appeal argues, “is voiding the referendum results and ordering a new election using ballot language that informs voters of the true nature of Senate Bill 1,” the legislation authorizing ballot Question 5.
On October 20, 2011, the Maryland General Assembly passed and Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law Senate Bill 1 to redistrict Maryland’s eight congressional districts. In August 2012, Judicial Watch and MDPetitions.com successfully defended the placement of the Congressional Districting Plan on the 2012 ballot when Maryland’s highest court denied an attempt by the state Democratic Party to prevent a referendum.
On August 30, 2012, Judicial Watch filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County alleging that the Question 5 ballot language certified by the Secretary of State was legally insufficient. It noted that the ballot, “is a mere 23 words and omits any reference to the fact that Senate Bill 1 makes material changes to existing congressional districts … remov[ing] 1.6 million Marylanders from their previous congressional district.” On September 6, 2012, the Circuit Court ruled in favor of the state, prompting this week’s action in the Special Court of Appeals.
“The people of Maryland have been effectively denied their constitutional right to choose their own representation in Congress,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “As our lawsuit makes clear, the gerrymandered map undermines the accountability of Maryland’s congressional representatives to the voters by both reducing competitive congressional races and dividing communities to prevent unified opinions about representatives. Voters were purposefully misled by the ballot language when they voted on the issue last November.”
At the time of the Question 5 referendum, voters were urged to vote “No” on Question 5 by the editorial boards of the Baltimore Sun, the Annapolis Capital Gazette, the Carroll County Times, the Gazette, the Washington Post, the Washington Examiner, and Washington Jewish Week. The Washington Post editorialized: “The map … mocks the idea that voting districts should be compact or easily navigable. The eight districts respect neither jurisdictional boundaries nor communities of interest. To protect incumbents and for partisan advantage, the map has been sliced, diced, shuffled and shattered, making districts resemble studies in cubism.” The referendum passed with the support of 64% of the voters.