A Maryland delegate hoping to overturn a new law granting in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants said Tuesday his group has collected more than the minimum number of signatures for an early deadline.
Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington, said more than 25,000 signatures have been collected statewide, more than the required minimum of 18,579.
However, the group is pressing on toward its goal of 35,000 signatures by May 31 as a safeguard against signatures being rejected as invalid or procedurally incorrect, Parrott said.
"We're very happy with where we are in the numbers," he said.
The group, led by Parrott and Del. Patrick L. McDonough, R-Baltimore/Harford, is relying heavily on its website, www.mdpetitions.com, to gather signatures, tapping into voter registration records to ensure that the petitions are filled out accurately.
The group's goal is to get a referendum on the 2012 general election ballot, giving voters a chance to defeat the measure, which the Maryland General Assembly passed last month. Gov. Martin O'Malley signed it into law, but a referendum would put the measure on hold until voters decide.
The group's second and final deadline is June 30, when organizers must have submitted a total of at least 55,736 valid signatures. The group's goal is to get 100,000 as a buffer against signatures being rejected.
A news story that MarylandReporter.com posted Tuesday quoted Kari Snyder, a legislative aide for Parrott, saying: "There are 10,000 to 15,000 signatures that aren't valid."
But Parrott later said Snyder misspoke, and there was no way to know how many signatures were invalid so far.
He said Snyder thought she was talking off the record to MarylandReporter.com reporter Glynis Kazanjian.
Asked to respond, Kazanjian said the interview with Snyder "was without a doubt on the record," which was made clear a few times as they spoke.
Snyder later said she didn't think she'd be quoted on her "educated guess" based on stacks of petitions, an assumption she called a "rookie mistake" on her part.
Parrott said his best guess is that 10 percent of the 25,000 signatures obtained so far might be invalid because people aren't registered to vote, they signed petitions multiple times or for other reasons.
Early on, the rate of proper signatures was around 50 percent, he said, but organizers tightened their procedures, such as making it clear that the date of the signature must be included.
More than 2,000 individual petitions that people signed through the website might have deficiencies, such as not returning a copy of the bill with their signatures, so those signers were contacted, Parrott said.
Another 500 or so petitions that were circulated in person, with multiple signatures per petition, also might have been faulty, so those circulators were contacted, Parrott said.
Neither of those groups of petitions are included in the estimate of 25,000.
More petitions have come in, but haven't been reviewed yet.
The in-state tuition bill was controversial during the legislative session and has continued to be during the petition drive.
Supporters of the law say it will help young people who have lived most of their lives in Maryland and attended local schools afford a higher education.
Opponents say it rewards people who are breaking the law and forces lawful taxpayers to pay for their education.
Last week, Parrott declined to give a specific update on the number of signatures collected, but said he changed his mind after more people, including volunteers working on the drive, asked the same question.
Parrott said people who want to sign without using the website can call 410-774-0121 to find out where petitions are circulating that day or have a copy mailed to them.