With a 2 to 1 voter registration advantage, Democrats thrive in Maryland. Republicans and independents, who have yet to find a quality national candidate, struggle to produce winnable campaigns. On the other hand, the Democrats' mighty grip on both the State Senate and the State House can thwart grassroots mobilization. For years, the Human Rights Campaign and CASA de Maryland have attempted to push forward legislation that would further same-sex marriage initiatives and offer in-state incentives to the children of undocumented workers. Without insiders’ support, these campaigns could not advance.
In Maryland, we can be the first state to pass the DREAM Act and marriage equality laws into law with a popular vote. However, to win, we have to get out the vote. While we will triumphantly support our President Obama for a second term, this is not a year to sleep in. Despite a sizable voter registration imbalance, Democrats only make up 56% of actual voters in Maryland. What this means is passing these ground-breaking bills is not a guarantee.
In the 2012 Maryland legislative session, we finally moved enough Maryland’s legislators to support the Maryland DREAM Act and marriage equality bills. Some mainstream Democrats stood on the sidelines, while veteran legislators tossed their hat into the ring. We even saw a few Republicans cross the aisle and offer their support for the campaigns.
Although the laws passed legislative muster, enough petition signatures were gathered to challenge both of them. Now on the ballot, both campaigns face critical tests. Referendum votes are traditionally where legislation goes to wilt. They are tough campaigns to win, for they require enormous amounts of money and a large activist base. Moreover, they are focused around a single issue that often draws sharp and divisive lines among voters regardless of party affiliation.
Here are brief descriptions of the ballot votes, where the public support stands now, last minute opposition arguments to them, and how they stand apart from federal trends.
DREAM ACT (Question 4)
Maryland’s version of national DREAM Act policies, this legislation would give undocumented immigrant students the right to pay in-state tuition at a community college once they’ve completed three years of high school in Maryland. They will also have to show that they or their parents have filed state taxes.
While often painted as a ‘Latino’-specific issue, it is not; rather, it will benefit all immigrant families, regardless of class. In-state students currently pay around $8,000 a year in tuition, while out-of-state students pay around $26,000. It has been proven that creating an affordable environment to attend school increases retention and graduation rates. 59% of Marylanders currently support the legislation, with 35% of voters opposing it.
Opposition callers are telling undecided voters that allowing undocumented students to attend public universities will harm the interests of U.S.-born students.As attorney Mark Shumeli notes in the Baltimore Sun, this argument is baseless because “the law requires undocumented students to take 60 credit hours or graduate from a Maryland community college before transferring to a four-year institution.” Maryland community colleges have open enrollment, so no one will be rejected because of this legislation.
On the federal level, a filibustering Senate prevented the passage of the DREAM Act. This proposed law would have granted permanent residency to children brought to the United States at a young age. President Obama's administration created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Initiative, which allows young DREAMers to defer deportation and obtain work permits. While this is the step in the right direction, it is nowhere close to providing children of undocumented workers a pathway to citizenship or an affordable public education
Marriage Equality (Question 6)
Question 6 asks Maryland voters if they support gay and lesbian couples in getting civil marriage licenses. It grants the same legal protections and rights entitled to every heterosexual couple in the United States.
Polls are showing a close race, and the next day will be critical in getting out the vote. A weekend poll from The Baltimore Sun shows 47% of voters in support and 46% of voters opposed. Other polls are showing a 50% supporter base and a 40% opposition. Today, the National Organization for Marriage, an opponent of same-sex marriage, launched a $500,000 robo-call and phone-banking initiative to deter voters from supporting this legislation. With low turnout expected in Maryland, this initiative can sway the vote.
Attack ads and fear-mongering literature are attempting to sway faith voters. Religious freedom is protected in this legislation. Churches and religious officials do not have to marry anyone they do not want to.
A second attack claims that school curricula will be changed to promote homosexuality. This is not true, and this does not make any sense. What will be different is that our children will not grow up in a world where they see homosexual couples treated differently under the law from hetero-sexual couples. Our laws will promote respect and tolerance, and it can only lead to better learning environment and less bullying.
Nationally, President Barack Obama has formally endorsed marriage equality. He has even planted his feet in the Maryland Question 6 ballot initiative, encouraging all Marylanders to vote for it. Voting for President Obama furthers marriage equality efforts, as he is also the president who repealed our military's discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"policy.
While Maryland may be a proud Democratic state, it is also a state to watch. What we win here can help spur grassroots efforts to achieve similar ground across the United States. Look out for us on Tuesday night.