Activists who worked to repeal the death penalty anxiously awaited news Friday that their efforts would not be overturned by a successful petition drive.
"It sounds like they're going to announce that they don't have the signatures," said Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions. "We're happy with that scenario. Democracy's already been served. ... I'm excitedly waiting to see if, come midnight, I'm out of a job."
Despite a flurry of last-minute signature-gathering, proponents of capital punishment may abandon their efforts to put the death penalty to a referendum vote in 2014.
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In the past few weeks, the group pushing the petition was far behind its goals to meet Friday's midnight deadline to turn in 18,579 signatures to election officials, said Frederick County State's Attorney J. Charles Smith III.
A formal announcement on the group's plans has been scheduled for Friday afternoon in Frederick. The time was moved to 2 p.m.
“We're still counting, and we're still collecting,” said Republican Del. Neil Parrott, chairman of the mdpetitions.com group leading the effort to put death penalty repeal before voters. “When we announced this, we knew it was going to be a long shot. We’re still trying to see what we can do.”
The Maryland legislature voted this spring to end capital punishment in the state, but public polls show residents are divided on whether to keep the death penalty.
A coalition of prosecutors and mdpetitions.com, a group that has successfully petitioned three other laws to referendum, announced May 3 it would strive to get enough signatures to get over the first hurdle of Friday's deadline. Even if the group succeeded, it would need to collect more than 36,000 additional signatures.
"They seem to be indicating publicly that they have not been successful," said Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.
"We're all very hopeful that the effort to petition the bill to referendum will not move forward," Russell said. "It would be a very difficult challenge to have to spend the time and resources that would be necessary to uphold the bill on referendum when that energy could be put to better use advancing other pro-life causes in the state."
A separate group is collecting signatures to put Maryland's new gun law up for a referendum vote.