Affirmative Action, Dream Act Put in Front of Voters

Oklahoma and Maryland voters will decide on questions of access and equality.
by | November 6, 2012
 

For full election coverage and analysis, go to Governing's 2012 Election Center.

Voters in Oklahoma and Maryland will be asked diametrically opposed questions about access to education and other public services based on Nov. 6.

Oklahoma Question 759 would explicitly ban affirmative action in the state’s schools and government. It would forbid granting admission to a university, offering a job or awarding a government contract to anyone based on their race, ethnicity or gender. The question adds a section to the state constitution to codify that policy. The proposal includes an exception for when applying affirmative action is necessary to access federal funding.

The initiative has supporters and opponents in the state legislature, which had to approve it to appear on the ballot this month.

"I think we should judge people purely on their qualifications,” said State Sen. Rob Johnson, according to a round-up from Ballotpedia. “I think at one point in time there was a need for affirmative action programs, especially right after the civil rights movement, but I think the time has come now where they’re doing more damage than they are good.”

State Sen. Jabar Shumate countered that the initiative was unnecessary.

"If there’s no problem and you’re looking for a solution, there has to be a conclusion that there’s an effort to stir up the fears of people," he said.

No official polling has been conducted on the initiative, but an unscientific online poll by KFOR in Oklahoma City found 70 percent supported banning affirmative action in the state.

On the other side, Maryland voters will decide whether to allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at the state’s public universities and colleges. To qualify, the student would have to have attended a Maryland high school for three years and prove that their parents filed taxes with the state. The student could attend a community college for two years before transferring to a four-year institution.

The Dream Act, as it is commonly called, was passed by the state legislature in 2011 and signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley. Opponents then acquired the necessary number of signatures to place a referendum on the 2012 ballot, so Maryland voters will choose whether or not to keep the law.

Opponents argue that the law would cost the state too much money (legislative estimates place the cost at $3.5 million by 2016) and deny admission to public universities for lawful citizens. Its supporters say the law provides important opportunities for residents who have paid into the tax system and live in their state, lawfully or not.

A September poll by the Baltimore Sun suggests the law could be in trouble: 47 percent said they were opposed to the Dream Act, while 39 percent said they were in favor of it.

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