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Ballot Questions Could Reshape Maryland's Social Landscape

Same-sex marriage, in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, expanded gambling and congressional redistricting all come down to state voters this November.

Ballot Questions Could Reshape Maryland's Social Landscape

With voters deciding four of Maryland’s most divisive issues, pundits and pols are bracing for an Election Day outcome the likes of which the state has never seen.

The Nov. 6 ballot will feature seven statewide referenda in all—the most ever, reported The Washington Post. Those ballot questions were certified last week, to include: one question each for Prince George’s County and Baltimore County to require that orphan’s court judges pass the Maryland Bar, and a change in state law to accelerate the removal or suspension of elected officials convicted of crimes while in office.

The other four ballot questions are expected to spur unprecedented electioneering by advocates on all sides:

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

If gay couples come out of Nov. 6 with the right to wed, it would be the first time voters anywhere in the United States will have approved same-sex marriage, reported The Washington Times

MARYLAND'S "DREAM ACT"

The 2011 law—quickly stymied by the referendum—would allow college-bound illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition if they have graduated from a Maryland high school and their families pay state taxes, among other requirements.

GAMBLING GROWTH

Question 7 asks whether voters will allow "table games" with human dealers, add 1,000 video lottery table terminals and allow a mega-casino in Prince George’s County.

REDISTRICTING REDUX

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s congressional redistricting plan drew fire from Republicans and minority groups even before being enacted in October. It is the first time in half a century that Census-driven congressional redistricting has gone to referendum, reported the Washington Times.

Individual counties also have other issues being voted on specific to their jurisdictions.

“At no time in memory have Maryland voters decided so many momentous cultural and economic issues on a single day,” wrote The Washington Post.

The epochal tenor of this election cycle is set at the top of the ballot with a presidential race of unusual magnitude, said John N. Bambacus, professor emeritus at Frostburg State University’s Department of Political Science.

“This one is so hotly contested, and for many people, regardless of party, poses fundamental differences in terms of what role we want government to play in our lives,” said Bambacus, a former state senator.

Expect the rancor to reach a fever pitch, Bacumbus said, as advocates clamor for voters' attention in such a crowded field. To that end, supporters of the Dream Act and same-sex marriage are joining ranks. Casa de Maryland and Equality Maryland are fronting the coalition, which will rally in Langley Park on Tuesday.

“We have a unique opportunity to show that Marylanders believe in fairness and that Marylanders believe in family,” Gustavo Torres, Casa’s executive director, said in a statement. “We will show that we are building economies aimed at the future and communities where everyone is embraced; that we are a state that understands that we are all in this together.” 

But that partnership could backfire by stoking conservative voters, said Brad Botwin, director of the anti-illegal immigrant group Help Save Maryland. An outspoken opponent of the Dream Act, Botwin himself had been on the fence regarding gay marriage—until he heard Casa and Equality Maryland were joining forces.

“It’s like, ‘Thanks for pushing me off the fence,’” he said.

The push to educate voters on all four issues is expected to entail an unprecedented price. The gambling question is sure to rack up a massive tally, reported the Post, while the campaign on same-sex marriage will cost millions, reported the Washington Times.

And with the ballot questions involving so many adversarial groups, the partisan spending should ramp up to record highs, Bacumbus said.

“There’s probably going to be more money spent on these four questions than we’ve seen in our lifetime,” he said.

But for all the advocates’ efforts in the next two months to win over the electorate, Bacumbus expects presidential politics to overshadow the referenda throughout the run-up to Election Day—and even at the voting booth.

“Most people are not even going to be paying attention [to the ballot questions] until the week before the election,” Bacumbus said. “Let’s face it, most folks are going to focus on the presidential race, then, oh by the way, they get to the end of the ballot and they see these questions that they may or may not know much about.”

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