Election 101

Questions 1 and 2: Orphan's Court judges qualifications Question 1 requires that judges of the Prince George's County Orphan's Court-which handles probate and guardianship matters-be attorneys and members of the Maryland bar in good standing. Question 2 requires the same of judges of the Baltimore County Orphan's Court. Two years ago, Maryland voters approved this same ballot question for Baltimore City. On the same day, Baltimore City voters elected a non-lawyer, Laudette Ramona Moore Baker, to the three-judge bench of the city's Orphan's Court. To settle the contradictory outcomes at the polls, O'Malley didn't seat Baker and instead appointed a lawyer, Michele Loewenthal. Now Prince George's and Baltimore counties seek to join Baltimore City in adding the qualification. At the very least, requiring that jurists handling rather arcane matters of law be lawyers can do no harm-other than to the likes of Baker, who ended up not getting the taxpayer-funded job she wanted.

BOTTOM LINE: Vote "For" the amendment if you want it these judges to be lawyers or vote "Against" it if you think the proposed qualification is unnecessary.

Question 3: Removing elected officials for criminal convictions Today, under the Maryland Constitution, when a sitting Maryland politician accused of a crime is found guilty or pleads guilty or no contest, he or she remains in office until sentencing, which may not take place until months later. Qualifying crimes include felonies and misdemeanors related to the official's public duties or moral turpitude that carry possible prison terms. This situation played out twice recently-in the cases of Baltimore City Mayor Sheila Dixon (D), who pleaded guilty to state theft and perjury in 2010, and Prince George's County Councilwoman Leslie Johnson (D), who pleaded guilty to federal obstruction-of-justice charges in 2011, in connection with a probe that resulted in her husband, county executive Jack Johnson, pleading guilty-after his term in office expired-to an extortion conspiracy related to his official duties. Dixon and Leslie Johnson both stayed in office until they were sentenced, rather than when they entered their pleas. Under the proposed amendment, both would have had to leave when they entered their guilty pleas. The idea here is, if they're guilty, the sooner they go, the better.

BOTTOM LINE: Vote "For" the amendment if you believe convicted politicians should leave office immediately or vote "Against" it if you think they should be able to stay in office until they are sentenced.

Question 4: DREAM Act The proposal that some undocumented immigrants may be granted in-state tuition at Maryland colleges and universities-the DREAM Act, which stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors-has sparked outrage among opponents who believe that it would attract a flood of illegal immigrants to Maryland, resulting in mounting costs, and that it extends a break to those who are in this country illegally. The qualifying requirements that would need to be met are highly restrictive, however, and if it passes, the foregone tuition revenues are estimated at about $3.5 million annually by 2016-a relatively small amount, given the likely outcome of more tax-paying Marylanders with higher educations, higher incomes, and lower likelihoods of committing crimes that would result in prison. Along the way, as the students gather diplomas, they may find available ways to straighten out their immigration status.

As it stands, undocumented immigrants who are Maryland residents do not qualify for in-state tuition, no matter how long they've resided in the Free State. To remove this barrier, the act would establish restrictive requirements, so that only children with Maryland high school diplomas, who come from families that have long-running, tax-paying terms of residence in Maryland would qualify. The checklist for qualifying is long and detailed, assuring that, should the act attract new families of undocumented immigrants to Maryland, they'd only receive this benefit after having been here-working and paying taxes while their kids successfully complete at least three years of in-state high school-for a good while. The potential per-family financial impact is large; at University of Maryland, for instance, out-of-state students currently pay about $27,000, while in-state students pay about $8,900.

Supporters of the DREAM Act in Maryland-and there are many, according to a mid-October Washington Post poll that found 59 percent in favor to 35 percent opposed-extol its potential economic benefits and its fundamental appeal to fairness in society. If it passes, Maryland would be the first state to approve such a ballot measure, though 13 others have passed similar legislation. For years, Congress has been sitting on a proposed federal DREAM Act, which was first introduced in 2001.

BOTTOM LINE: Vote "For" the law if you want in-state tuition to be available for qualified undocumented immigrants or vote "Against" it if you don't.

Question 5: Maryland's new Congressional district map The new Congressional district boundaries drawn by O'Malley and passed by the General Assembly, as required after every U.S. Census count, give Democrats an upper hand in the traditionally Republican 6th District. The new districts were challenged and upheld in Maryland federal court, whose decision was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, but have the distinction of being among the least geographically compact in the nation, according to a recent study by Azavea, a geospatial-analysis firm. The analysis found that four of Maryland's eight districts were among the nation's 25 most spread-out districts; aside from Maryland, only Texas and North Carolina had as many districts in the list. Thus, opponents of the new map have plenty of justification for leveling "gerrymandering" charges-a 200-year-old word first used to describe a district redrawn for political advantage in such a way that it resembled a salamander.

Redistricting is a partisan process, led generally by the party in charge in each state, and distaste for the outcome sometimes results in new maps, as happened in Maryland after the 2000 Census-though that conflict was resolved in the courts, not by a ballot question before voters. This time, Maryland Republicans are generally crying foul over the new maps, and they are not alone. Some Democratic leaders-Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot and longtime U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer among them-are also urging voters to toss out O'Malley's maps and start the map-drawing process over again. If that happens, the winners of Maryland's Nov. 6 Congressional races will serve the existing districts until after the 2014 elections, which will determine who represents constituents in newly redrawn districts.

BOTTOM LINE: Vote "For" the law if you want the maps to stay as they are or vote "Against" it if you want new district boundaries to be drawn.

Question 6: Marriage equality The Maryland General Assembly, which made history in 1973 by passing the nation's first state law defining marriage as between one man and one woman, reversed itself this year after O'Malley and legislative leaders mustered the necessary votes to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. Opponents reacted by organizing an enormously successful petition drive. So, for the new law to take effect in January 2013, this ballot question must pass-and if it does, Maryland may make history again, by becoming the first state to support such a measure at the ballots. Religious and cultural traditionalists may find this an affront to their values, but polls show most Marylanders agree with the proposition that two people in love should be able to tie the knot, regardless of gender. A mid-October Washington Post poll found 52 percent of likely voters supporting the measure, while 43 percent oppose it. In other states' prior experience, though, pre-election polling support hasn't materialized at the same level on Election Day.

BOTTOM LINE: Vote "For" the law if you want same-sex couples to be able to marry; vote "Against" it if you don't.

Question 7: Expanded gambling In 2008, Maryland voters settled the question of whether or not to expand state-sanctioned gambling beyond the Maryland Lottery-with a resounding 59-to-41 vote to put 15,000 slot machines at five casinos around the state. Now, four years later, Maryland's fledgling casino industry is in the midst of expensive infighting-gambling companies so far have spent $65 million on the ballot battle-over whether to allow a sixth casino in Prince George's County, add table games like blackjack and roulette to the mix, and install another 1,500 slot machines. The General Assembly passed the measure in a special session earlier this year and voters now get to take a whack at the proposal, for or against.

Proponents point to tens of millions of dollars of additional state revenues that are predicted to result, to the need to blunt neighboring states' competitive advantages on table games, and to the likelihood of the creation of several thousand new jobs. Among the opponents are those who already hold casino licenses in Maryland, who understandably don't want to split up the pie. Others point out that gambling amounts to a regressive tax that mostly impacts those who can least afford it and that it gives rise to social problems stemming from problem gambling. Additional revenues are earmarked for education, but lawmakers can always come back and rejigger the allocation as they see fit.

The state is proposing a way to raise more revenue and create new jobs and, in so doing, they're giving voters another chance to revisit their thoughts on the matter from four years ago. Polls show a mixed bag of results, suggesting a close outcome. A late-September Baltimore Sun poll of registered voters found 53 percent opposed and 38 percent in favor, while a mid-October Washington Post poll of likely voters showed a statistical deadlock, with 48 percent against and 46 percent supporting.

BOTTOM LINE: Vote "For" the law if you want Maryland to have more gambling or vote "Against" if you don't.

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