A guest post from Delegate Mike Smigiel
It never ceases to amaze me what kind of events occur under the heading of "You can't make this stuff up!"
Delegate Parrott called to tell me of a new problem he was having with the State Election Board wanting to allow the illegal immigrant support group, CASA de Maryland, (CASA) to take possession of the 67,000 petition signatures so they could be copied at a local copy center. Neil said that he was told our side would not be able to have anyone present while CASA was making its copies of our petitions. At first I thought, poor Neil, the pressure has gotten to him and he is now imagining outrageous impossible scenarios, which could materialize to destroy all the hard work that thousands of volunteers across the State had put in to fulfill the constitutional requirement of taking a question to referendum. Fortunately, Neil is still sane unfortunately, I think the election board has lost its collective mind.
When I called to inquire as to whether what Neil had told me was correct I was greeted with a certain amount of incredulity. It appeared the election board personnel were just as shocked that I would be questioning their proposed plan as I was at hearing of their plan.
I explained that in my 22 years as an attorney who often sued governments and thus needed to obtain documents, it had always been the practice of government agencies, in my experience, to request so much per page, usually 25 cents. The agency would copy the requested documents and I would sometimes also be billed for the employees’ cost of copying the documents if it were a particularly large copy request. The election board explained they did not have the personnel to copy all these documents. It was explained to me that allowing the party requesting copies of petitions to take them to be copied elsewhere is the way that the requests had been handled in the past. The ACLU in particular had been allowed to do this in the past.
I suggested a second method of copying the documents would be to have a private company who is bonded come in to do the work and then the bill could be given to CASA.
I also explained that allowing the documents to be handled by any outside group, such as CASA, for no matter how long, would raise chain of custody questions later, when this matter goes to court. I was told, well Delegate, the chain has already been broken because the petitions were mailed from the local election offices to the State Election Board after they were evaluated (without any oversight by pesky interloping citizens, but that is another story) for certification. I interjected that I don't believe it is a fair comparison to liken the United States Postal Authorities to the CASA organization. Never the less my argument about maintaining an unbroken chain of custody over the 67,000 signatures seemed to be falling on deaf ears.
I therefore wanted to reiterate that on behalf of those who were collecting the signatures we were opposed to the Kinko's plan and would prefer one of the other two methods of obtaining the copies.
While either of the above alternative methods would be preferable to allowing CASA to ever take physical possession of the actual original petitions, if the election board is going to insist on taking the trip to Kinko's with CASA, then we insist that our people be present. The reply to that request was "we prefer to do our fighting in court, not at Kinko's". I responded by asking, "What would ever give you the idea that any of our people would be obstreperous and cause a problem?" After all, it is CASA that is sending people out to the locations where citizens are collecting signatures on the referendum petitions and standing in front of their signs or tables and harassing those coming up to the tables to sign petitions. I assured the Election Board representative that the people we would send would be upstanding citizens who would conduct themselves in a professional manner.
I was informed today that CASA has filed its Public Information Act request. I spoke to Delegate Parrott this morning and he is going to submit our request also. While I trust the trip to Kinko's will be incident free because there will be lots of eyes present now, I am still concerned about the possibility that some of the signers of the petitions being contacted or harassed by the individuals who have been showing up to harass those gathering signatures.
This is a very emotional and controversial issue for both sides. I understand that emotions are raised and different people react differently to stress. The State of Maryland's Election Board needs to do everything possible to assure the citizens of Maryland that this Constitutional process will be protected from any appearance of impropriety.
Whom ever takes possession of the copies of the names, addresses and birth dates of those who signed the petitions needs to make sure that every effort is made to assure the information on those signing the petitions is used only for legitimate referendum or opposition purposes.
This matter will inevitably end up in the courts so lets try to keep it civil.