Opponents of the Maryland “Dream Act” have cleared their most important hurdle, with validated signatures totaling twice as many as needed to send the would-be law to referendum next year.
Elections officials verified the final batch of signatures on Thursday afternoon. Of the more than 76,000 submitted on the June 30 deadline, 63,118 were deemed valid.
That brings the total to 110,346 valid signatures amassed since Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the bill into law in May. The Dream Act would allow recent high school graduates who are in the country illegally to pay in-state tuition if they meet certain requirements, including attending a state high school for at least three years and that their parents pay state taxes.
The Maryland State Board of Elections has until July 22 to certify the results. Administrator Linda Lamone expects to take the full two weeks so that Dream Act supporters have the full time to weigh their options on taking the issue to court.
“The process is structured in a manner to give interested parties time to examine issues,” Lamone said. “… It’s an orderly process that’s followed and everybody is on notice.”
Dream Act supporters have challenged the petition drive on two fronts.
And Casa of Maryland will be given the names of every signature under provisions of the Maryland Public Information Act, so that they can “independently verify” the signatures. The three state delegates leading the anti-Dream Act push will be given the same information.
Dream Act opponents say that the collection of so many signatures in less than two months sends a message on how much opposition there is, and renders any would-be challenges to the signature count moot.
“The numbers are just too overwhelming,” said Sue Payne, an organizer for Rally for America.
Maryland Secretary of State John P. McDonough will decide how the question is worded on the November 2012 ballot.
A coalition of clergy leaders and immigrant advocates is undeterred in defending the Dream Act, and will ratchet up their efforts to convince voters that the law is morally and fiscally sound.
“[T]he theology of love will triumph over hate,” the coalition said in a statement issued Friday night. “We believe that investing in our children is critical for a successful Maryland. And, we trust that once Marylanders do the math, they will understand the fiscal and moral import to ensure the MD DREAM Law prevails.”
By The Numbers
Here's a breakdown of anti-Dream Act signatures, by county.