The fate of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants in Maryland appears to be headed to voters next year after a campaign to put the issue on the 2012 ballot amassed more than twice the required signatures in only two months.
The campaign has blocked the onset of Maryland’s DREAM Act—which was set to take effect July 1.
The Maryland State Board of Elections has unofficially certified 63,118 petition signatures, exceeding the minimum 55,736 signatures required for voters to decide on the issue during next November's election.
Howard County submitted 3,315 signatures.
"We are now going to begin our campaign and work to make sure the referendum effort ultimately succeeds at the ballot box in November of 2012,” said Del. Pat McDonough (R-Baltimore and Harford Counties), chairman of the petition drive, in a press release.
The success rate of the valid signatures has exceeded 80 percent, and at that rate, the total number of signatures will exceed 95,000 valid signatures.
“Right now, the local election boards are in the process of counting all of the signatures,” said Donna Duncan, director of the election management division.
State Bill 167 constitutes that illegal aliens would be eligible for in-state tuition if their parents filed to pay state taxes and if they graduated from a Maryland high school they attended for at least three years.
The bill passed the House of Delegates by a 74-65 vote and the Senate by a 27-20 vote earlier this year.
Opponents immediately after Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the bill in May.
“There are some who try to portray it as free tuition for illegal immigrants, and that’s not what it is,” O'Malley told Patch Monday. “Once people learn that and once people kind of break through the hype and the hate that’s been wrapped around it, I think people will make a fair decision.”
Harford County resident Patrick McGrady, an opponent of State Bill 167, has been making phone calls and posting signs along roads to raise awareness of the petition. He said he has collected about 1,000 signatures from citizens in the area during the last several weeks in an effort to bring the decision to voters in November 2012.
“We can’t have both open borders and welfare for illegal immigrants,” McGrady said.
Harford County had the third-most Marylanders sign a petition against a senate bill that would allow in-state tuition for illegal aliens, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections.
The 8,547 signatures against Senate Bill 167 in Harford County only trail the 14,119 signatures in Baltimore County and 12,690 signatures in Anne Arundel County.
Despite signatures surpassing the threshold number needed for referendum, the issue could take a detour into state courthouses before reaching voters. Immigrant advocates are contesting the means by which the petition’s signatures were collected.
Casa of Maryland, the state’s largest immigrant advocacy group, filed a public information request for the names of those who signed the petitions to make an "independent determination about whether the board violated the law in validating the signatures," said Kim Propeack, the nonprofit’s lead political organizer.
The to gather signatures. At the time, MDpetitions.com had accounted for roughly one-third of the 57,505 submitted signatures.
"There could have been errors in a lot of different aspects of the documents," Propeack said.
Whatever that outcome, the issue could change course in a state courtroom before reaching the ballot box.
Elections board officials must count all signatures by July 20 and verify them by July 22.
Montgomery Village Patch editor Sebastian Montes and D. Frank Smith contributed to this article.