ACLU plays both sides on on­line sig­na­ture is­sue

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY DAVID HILL

Two months be­fore the Mary­land chap­ter of the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union ques­tioned the le­gal­ity of a web­site used to col­lect sig­na­tures op­pos­ing the state’s Dream Act, the group’s Utah chap­ter filed a law­suit de­mand­ing that its state al­low on­line sig­na­tures for ref­er­en­dum ef­forts.

The ACLU of Mar yland be­gan rais­ing ques­tions in May about a web­site used by or­ga­niz­ers of an ef­fort to force a ref­er­en­dum on the Dream Act, which would al­low il­le­gal aliens to pay in-state tu­ition at Mary­land col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties.

The group said the site, md­pe­ti­tions.com, vi­o­lates state pe­ti­tion laws by us­ing on­line voter records to au­to­mat­i­cally fill in res­i­dents’ names, dates of birth and ZIP codes. The site also al­lows res­i­dents to down­load and cir­cu­late their own copy of the pe­ti­tion.

The Mary­land ACLU has ar­gued that the sys­tem is sub­ject to fraud and that law re­quires that sign­ers fill in all of their own in­for­ma­tion, rather than have it done for them elec­tron­i­cally. How­ever, op­po­nents have ar­gued that the group’s stance con­tra­dicts that of the ACLU of Utah, which in March sued its one of sev­eral groups that have voiced re­cent sup­port for the law, join­ing grass-roots ad­vo­cacy group Pro­gres­sive Mary­land and pro-im­mi­gra­tion group CASA de Mary­land, which suc­cess­fully re­quested a copy of the pe­ti­tion’s sig­na­tures, which are pub­lic record.

While the ACLU of Mary­land hopes to tighten re­stric­tions on an ef­fort it op­poses, the ACLU of Utah is fight­ing to loosen re­stric­tions on an ef­fort it fa­vors, a ref­er­en­dum to block a law mak­ing cer tain state doc­u­ments ex­empt from free­dom-of-

The Mary­land ACLU has ar­gued that the anti-Mary­land Dream Act Web site is sub­ject to fraud and that law re­quires that sign­ers fill in all of their own in­for­ma­tion, rather than have it done for them elec­tron­i­cally. How­ever, op­po­nents have ar­gued that the group’s stance con­tra­dicts that of the ACLU of Utah, which in March sued its state to al­low on­line “e-sig­na­tures” in place of hand­writ­ten sig­na­tures.

state to al­low on­line “e-sig­na­tures” in place of hand­writ­ten sig­na­tures.

“They’re speak­ing out of both sides of their mouths and be­ing in­con­sis­tent,” said Del­e­gate Neil C. Par­rott, West­ern Mary- land Repub­li­can who has led the pe­ti­tion ef­fort. “It’s sim­ply be­cause they don’t want to see the bill go to ref­er­en­dum.”

Dream Act op­po­nents sub­mit­ted enough sig­na­tures June 30 to force a Novem­ber 2012 ref­er­en­dum on the law. They needed to have 55,736 valid voter sig­na­tures, and or­ga­niz­ers col­lected more than 47,000 sig­na­tures by May 31.

The ACLU of Mary­land is in­for­ma­tion re­quests.

The Utah group ar­gues that bar­ring on­line sig­na­tures dis­en­fran­chises ab­sen­tee vot­ers, and that the va­lid­ity of e-sig­na­tures has been up­held by a Utah Supreme Court rul­ing.

Lawyers for the ACLU of Mary­land did not re­turn calls seek­ing com­ment, and spokes­woman Mered­ith Cur­tis de­clined to dis­cuss the Utah case, point­ing out that state ACLU chap­ters each op­er­ate in­de­pen­dently.

She said the Mary­land chap­ter’s con­cerns fo­cus specif­i­cally on the md­pe­ti­tions.com web­site rather than all on­line sys­tems, and that Mary­land’s laws can­not nec­es­sar­ily be com­pared to those in other states.

“We have very spe­cific is­sues with the sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to fraud of cer­tain sys­tems,” she said. “The site lets you pro­duce pe­ti­tions for oth­ers. And if you were so in­clined, you could sign those pe­ti­tions for oth­ers.”

The state Board of Elec­tions and at­tor­ney gen­eral are re­view­ing the ACLU’s con­cerns, state Ad­min­is­tra­tor of Elec­tions Linda H. La­mone said June 27. She said a ref­er­en­dum could be de­layed only by a court or­der ex­tend­ing to Novem­ber 2012, but that she hopes “any lit­i­ga­tion is com­pleted by that time.”

The Mary­land Dream Act was sched­uled to go into ef­fect July 1, but was sus­pended un­til Aug. 1 af­ter pe­ti­tion or­ga­niz­ers met a May 31 sig­na­ture re­quire­ment. Elec­tion of­fi­cials have un­til July 22 to val­i­date the re­main­ing sig­na­tures.

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