Proponents of the death penalty in Maryland will attempt to overturn at the ballot box a new law repealing capital punishment.
The effort to place the issue before voters in 2014 will be spearheaded by Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger and Washington County Del. Neil Parrott. The pair is expected to make the effort to collect the required 55,736 official during a Friday morning announcement near Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Shellenberger said the death penalty is an important tool for prosecutors.
"One only has to look at what has taken place in our country in the last 10 years—Virginia Tech; Aurora, CO; Boston," Shellenberger said. "We don't know what is going to happen in the future but we should at least have the death penalty on the books to be considered by a state's attorney in Maryland."
The announcement comes just one day after Gov. Martin O'Malley signed the bill making Maryland the 18th state to repeal the death penalty. The effort was part of the governor's legislative priorities for the 2013 session.
Barring a successful effort to place the law on the 2014 ballot, the law takes affect on Oct. 1.
The group plans to use Parrott's website, MDPetitions.com, to collect the signatures.
Shellenberger and Parrott will need to collect about one-third of the required signatures—about 18,400 voters—by May 31 to move forward with their effort.
Parrott's website was credited with allowing referendum efforts in 2012 to quickly collect signatures in far greater numbers than what was required by law.
The site was also responsible for the increased of valid signatures by allowing registered voters to electronically fill in their information directly from voter registration rolls. That led to signature validation rates approaching 90 percent in some counties.
Prior to the website, petitions collected by hand typically had a rejection rate of about 50 percent.
Ultimately, those petition efforts failed at the ballot box because of lackluster campaigns once the issues were placed before voters.
Shellenberger said he hopes to change that for the 2014 election.
"I'm deeply committed to seeing us get it on the ballot and committed to assisting in the election in 2014," Shellenberger said. "I think clearly we learned form the last election that just getting the issue on the ballot is not enough. We have to see it through to the end and make sure that voters understand the issue.
"The real effort begins in the spring and summer of 2014," Shellenberger said.
A March poll released by the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College found that a majority of Marylanders surveyed favored retaining the death penalty but preferred life in prison without parole as a punishment for murder.
The poll reported that 51 percent of those surveyed favored retaining capital punishment in Maryland compared to 43 percent who said they favored abolishing the law.
“During this past week, the Maryland General Assembly has taken the first steps to add Maryland to the list of 17 other states that have abolished the use of the death penalty,” Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center, said in March. “While citizens appear to overestimate its use, prefer life imprisonment without parole, and express doubts over whether the death penalty deters murder, half of Maryland residents do not want the death penalty taken completely off the table.”