Court of Appeals Ruling – Unreadable Signatures Are Valid on Referendum Petitions

The Maryland Court of Appeals issued an Opinion March 22 in a case brought by Montgomery County Volunteer Firefighters Association against the Montgomery County Board of Elections.  The firefighters sought to roll back a new county-levied charge for ambulance service, similar to that used in multiple other jurisdictions.  The firefighters contended they had enough valid signatures to meet the state requirement to place a referendum on the Montgomery County ballot this past November to allow citizens to decide whether the fee should be “rolled back.”  In the original argument filed by the firefighters with the County Board of Elections, the County Board of Elections ruled the firefighters’ petition failed to meet the state requirements to get on the November ballot because only 13,021 of the 33,740 signatures were legible enough to comply as signatures of valid registered voters.  The firefighters subsequently filed suit against the Board of Elections and the lower court sided with the Board of Elections.  The Board of Elections indicated that if legible signatures were not an issue, the petition would have been successful.  The case brought to the Court of Appeals pertained to the “legibility” of the signatures.

In the Opinion issued by the Court, the ruling states:

Legibility is not a statutory requirement in order for a signature on a referendum petition to be validated and then verified pursuant to §§ 6-203 and 6-207 of the Election Law Article.

According the Baltimore Sun’s Maryland Politics blog,

This fall, in an emergency ruling, prior to the March 22 opinion,  the Court of Appeals  gave the ballot question the go-ahead, overturning the board of elections’ and a lower court’s ruling that it had not met the petition requirements. County voters rejected the transportation fee in the November election.

Left unchanged by today’s ruling was the tricky matter of middle initials. State law requires someone who signs a petition to the name he or she used when registering to vote.

The example used in state election board guidelines is John Henry Smith. If Smith signs a petition, he would have to indicate that his name is John Henry Smith, J. Henry Smith or John H. Smith to be counted as valid. He could not use John Smith or J.H. Smith.

Some signature collectors have complained that the requirement is too restrictive because people don’t always remember how precisely they registered to vote. But Delegate Jon Cardin said today that petition rules are “absolutely effective enough.” Delegate Cardin said no one has complained to the election law subcommittee about the registration name issue.

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