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Md. Voters Deciding High-Profile Ballot Measures

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The line was at the door at a Fort Washington polling place, but, as one first-time voter said, "I just think it's very important to exercise your right to vote."

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Maryland voters could become the first in the nation to decide by popular vote to allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public colleges -- provided the students have attended a state high school for three years and can show they have filed state income tax returns during that time.

The tuition measure, signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley last year, was the first to be successfully petitioned to the ballot with the help of a website that enabled signers to avoid errors that could get their signatures thrown out.

The law had been put on hold pending the outcome of Tuesday's vote. About a dozen other states have similar laws --  but if approved, Maryland's would be the first to be approved by voters at the ballot box.

To qualify, students would also have to declare their intention to apply for permanent residency and register with the selective service, if they are required to do so.

Students also would have to complete 60 credit hours or graduate from a community college before becoming eligible to pay in-state tuition rates at a four-year public college or university.

Voters also are deciding Tuesday whether to expand gambling to legalize table games like blackjack and a casino near the nation's capital.

Opponents and supporters of expanded gambling have spent more than $90 million -- an unprecedented amount in Maryland for a single campaign. The new casino in Prince George's County could not open until 2016, while table games could begin at the state's three existing casinos early next year.

While the gambling question is the automatic result of legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly during an August special session, this year's longer-than-usual ballot in Maryland is largely due to petition drives led by Maryland Republicans.

At a polling place at Nicholas Orem Middle School in Hyattsville early Tuesday, Clayton Williams, a registered Democrat, said the state questions on the ballot were particularly important to him. He said he's not a "big fan" of gambling, but he voted for its expansion because he believes it's good for the county's economy.

"I don't think that my morals should prevent it from being established," he said.

Maryland also could potentially become the first state where voters decide to allow same-sex marriage, though voters in Maine and Washington state also are voting on the issue. Minnesota is considering a constitutional ban.

Williams said the same-sex marriage question was an easy one for him.

"It's not the state's job to squash gambling, and even more so it's not the state's job to squash people's right to get married," he said.

Maryland's same-sex marriage law was approved earlier this year, after a similar measure stalled in the legislature the previous year.

 

Shannon Wyss, who had a commitment ceremony with her partner this summer, said marriage should be a right.

"It's actually the first time I've ever been asked to vote on my rights," Wyss said. "It was an incredibly surreal experience to stand there and have to check 'yes' on something that no one should be voting on."

 

Another question facing Maryland voters Tuesday: whether to send state lawmakers back to the drawing board to create a new congressional redistricting map for the next 10 years.

Opponents contend the map has been gerrymandered to oust 10-term Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, while supporters say the map reflects demographic changes.

This is the first time in 20 years that statewide petition drives have successfully landed on Maryland's ballot. In 1992, voters approved a bill guaranteeing abortion rights in the state.

Associated Press writer Jessica Gresko contributed to this story.

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