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Court of Appeals rejects redistricting map appeal

ANNAPOLIS — The state’s highest court on Friday rejected an appeal by Maryland Democrats to stop a referendum on the state’s congressional redistricting map, paving the way for another question to be decided by voters in November.

While presidential and U.S. Senate races will be at the top of the ticket, ballot issues such as gambling expansion and same-sex marriage will be more hotly contested in Maryland.

Lawmakers this week passed legislation after the House of Delegates barely mustered the minimum number of votes in a special session to allow table games like roulette and blackjack, as well as a casino in Prince George’s County. Voters have the final say on gambling expansion under the state’s law.

Lawmakers also approved a same-sex marriage bill after another tight vote in the House.

Voters also will decide whether illegal immigrants can pay in-state tuition to attend public colleges under certain circumstances. For example, students would have to complete three years of high school in Maryland and show that their parents filed state income tax returns. That measure was passed last year.

It’s the first time in 20 years that statewide petition drives have successfully landed on the ballot. In 1992, voters approved a bill guaranteeing abortion rights in the state.

The Secretary of State is scheduled to certify this year’s ballot language on Monday.

The Court of Appeals ruling Friday on the new map for eight congressional districts came a day after the judges heard arguments. Opponents say the map has been gerrymandered to favor Democrats at the expense of fair representation.

Lawyers for the party contended that an online process used to help submit signatures was susceptible to fraud, because voters get a form online and mail it in, instead of directly submitting the information themselves. But attorneys defending the process say it is simply a helpful innovation enabling signers to avoid errors that could get their signatures thrown out.

Opponents gathered 59,201 certified signatures on the redistricting map petition. They needed 55,736.

Washington County Republican Del. Neil Parrott heads the online petition website MDPetitions.com and cheered the court’s decision. The website also helped boost the signature count for the same-sex marriage referendum, as well as the effort to repeal the in-state tuition law for some illegal immigrants.

Three constitutional amendments also will be on the ballot. One of them would remove a public official from office upon a finding of guilt of a felony or misdemeanors related to the official’s public duties. The other two relate to qualifications for orphans’ court judges in Prince George’s County and Baltimore County.

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