Lawsuit by MDPetitions.com Challenges Language of 2012 Ballot Question Regarding Maryland’s Gerrymandered Congressional Districting Map
AUGUST 30, 2012
Ballot language fails to “present the purpose of the enactment concisely and intelligently,” as required by law, Judicial Watch Files Lawsuit for Grassroots Maryland Group
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it has filed a complaint on behalf of MDPetitions.com against Maryland Secretary of State John McDonough and the State Board of Elections challenging the language of a ballot question for an upcoming referendum on Maryland’s new congressional redistricting plan (Neil C. Parrott and MDPetitions.com v. John McDonough in his official capacity as Secretary of State of Maryland and State Board of Elections and Linda H. Lamone in her official capacity as State Administrator of Elections). The lawsuit alleges that the language certified by Secretary of State McDonough to appear on the ballot does not “present the purpose of the enactment concisely and intelligently,” and is therefore in violation of the law.
Judicial Watch and MDPetitions.com successfully defended the placement of the Congressional Districting Plan on the 2012 ballot when Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, denied an attempt by the state Democratic Party to stop the referendum. The court issued its per curiam order on August 17, 2012.
As Judicial Watch notes in the MDPetions.com complaint, filed on August 30, 2012 in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, the Secretary of State certified ballot language that is legally insufficient.
…the language of the ballot question prepared and certified by the Secretary is a mere twenty-three words and omits any reference to the fact that Senate Bill 1 makes material changes to existing congressional districts or that it was enacted as an emergency measure and consequently had immediate effect, among other substantial omissions.
Judicial Watch and MDPetitions.com further described the significant ramifications of the Congressional Districting Plan: “Senate Bill 1 removed approximately 1.6 million Marylanders from their previous congressional district and, placed them in a different district.” This represents approximately 27% of the population.
By law, if the text of an enactment subject to referendum exceeds 200 words, the Secretary must prepare and certify ballot language in such forms as to “present the purpose of the enactment concisely and intelligently.”
MDPetitions.com Chairman Delegate Neil Parrott attempted to revise the language. However, Delegate Parrot was told by a representative of the State Board of Elections that the language had been certified by the Secretary of State on August 20, 2012 and could not be changed. The lawsuit therefore asks the court to prevent the state from printing the ballots with the erroneous language and to revise the ballot language in accordance with the law.
Delegate Parrott issued the following statement about MDPetitions.com’s new lawsuit..
“Marylanders worked hard to make sure that the congressional redistricting map could be voted on in this next election. Unfortunately, the proposed ballot language is vague and insufficient and doesn’t even refer to a specific map. The congressional map divides Maryland’s communities and dilutes the minority vote. I am convinced that if Maryland voters have the right information, the map will be voted down. My hope is that the court requires ballot language that gives voters a clear understanding of what is at stake.”
“First, Maryland politicians tried to prevent voters from having their voices heard on Maryland’s gerrymandered congressional map. And the courts stopped them. Now, key Maryland politicians are trying to present ballot language that will leave voters confused. We hope the courts stop them again,” added Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
On October 20, 2011, Governor Martin O’Malley (D-MD) signed the new Congressional Districting Plan into law, drawing heavy criticism and an unsuccessful legal challenge from both political parties. Critics maintain the new congressional map is specifically designed to enhance the power of certain incumbents while minimizing the voting power of minorities, rural voters and Republicans.
As noted by a Washington Post editorial: “The map, drafted under Mr. O’Malley’s watchful eye, 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.”
MDPetitions.com launched a successful petition drive to put the gerrymandered Congressional Districting Plan to a referendum November 2012.