An organizer of a petition drive opposing in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants said his group expected to file enough signatures Tuesday night to meet a preliminary hurdle to take the issue to voters.
Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington, who is heading the effort, said the group planned to submit petitions containing about 40,000 signatures.
The group needed to have at least 18,579 signatures by Tuesday, the first of two deadlines for forcing a referendum in the 2012 general election.
If the petition drive succeeds, the law — which passed the General Assembly in April and was scheduled to take effect July 1 — will be put on hold, and voters will decide.
Parrott said he and other volunteers hoping to overturn the law are confident the 40,000 signatures are "technically correct," meaning those who signed followed the proper procedure.
What isn't known, however, and might not be for at least a few more weeks, is how many signatures are valid. For example, someone might have correctly signed a petition, but isn't a registered voter, in which case that signature will be rejected.
Election officials must review and rule on all of the petitions by June 20, according to Donna Duncan, the director of the Maryland State Board of Elections' Election Management Division.
Parrott, Del. Patrick L. McDonough, R-Baltimore/Harford, and other supporters are trying to force the in-state tuition law to a public vote.
They are using a website that matches people's names on petitions with their officially registered names, a requirement under state law. People can print a petition, sign it and mail it.
Parrott said about half of the petitions have been signed in person and half completed through the website.
Even if organizers clear the first hurdle, they still will have plenty of work left to hit the second and final deadline: 55,736 valid signatures by June 30.
Parrott said the group's goal is to get at least 100,000 names, again creating a buffer against signatures and petitions being disqualified.
He said that will be a tough achievement. After needing six weeks to gather about 40,000 signatures, the group will have four weeks to collect another 60,000.
But the dynamics are different now than they were at the start, because the group's momentum has been increasing, Parrott said.
Parrott, McDonough and others pushing the petition drive say the in-state tuition law forces lawful taxpayers to subsidize higher education for illegal immigrants.
Those who back the new law say immigrants who would benefit from it have lived most of their lives in Maryland and have gone through the school system here.
The group was scheduled to turn the petitions into the Maryland Secretary of State's office at about 9 p.m. on Tuesday.
From there, the petitions were to be sent to the Maryland State Board of Elections.
Duncan said petitions will be distributed to local boards of election to verify them and check that names on the petitions belong to registered voters.
Local boards must complete their reviews and return them to the state board by June 20. After that, the state board will have two days to tell the petition drive organizers the results.
Duncan said the state board will post updates on the number of valid and invalid signatures at its website each business day, starting Friday.