Maryland Citizen Group Honored for Work to Keep Referendum Process Open and Accessible

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December 7, 2009

LAKE RIDGE, Virginia:

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Today, Citizens in Charge Foundation, a transpartisan national voter rights group focused on the ballot initiative and referendum process, presented Howard County Citizens for Open Government with the December 2009 John Lilburne Award. The group is being awarded this month for working to defend their right to petition their government over a land-use issue in Howard County, Maryland.

In late 2008, a group of citizens in Howard County, Maryland started a petition drive to bring a county land zoning decision to a referendum vote. After validating and accepting the group’s initial submission of roughly 2,500 signatures, the Howard County Board of Elections abruptly changed the interpretation of the law they used for the past 30 years to verify petition signatures. The new interpretation, known as the “triple match” is the strictest in the nation and the change led to the Board of Elections nullifying 87% of the previously accepted signatures, which immediately ended the group’s possibility for a successful referendum.

“It’s tough to win when the referee decides to change the rules in the middle of the game, especially if those rules make it impossible to win,” said Paul Jacob, President of Citizens in Charge Foundation. “That’s exactly what the Howard County Board of Elections did.”

After their petition signatures were thrown out, Howard County Citizens for Open Government sought to reverse the Election Board’s decision in court and challenge the constitutionality of the underlying law. On November 13, 2009, they argued their case before the Howard County Circuit Court, and are currently awaiting his decision.

“Not only does the Election Board’s decision to change their 30 year old validation practices at the 11th hour place an unfair burden on these citizens, but the underlying requirement that signatures be a ‘triple match’ is so burdensome that it is an unconstitutional denial of first amendment rights,” said Jacob. “If the court doesn’t overrule this interpretation, Marylanders will have no right to referendum, even though their state constitution guarantees it.”

To qualify as a ‘triple match’, the petition signature and printed name have to exactly match the name on the voter’s registration card. Any slight variation such as a middle initial or an abbreviated name results in the signature being thrown out.

“Thank goodness these citizens decided to stand up and fight for their referendum rights, and for that they are being honored with the December Lilburne Award,” added Jacob.

Each month, Citizens in Charge Foundation presents the John Lilburne Award to a citizen, or citizens, working to protect and defend the First Amendment petition rights of Americans. John Lilburne was a 17th Century English pamphleteer, political activist, and champion of individual rights who advocated constitutional government and pioneered the use of petitioning and referenda for redress against government power and abuse.

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