AUGUSTA — Maine’s century-old ballot initiative process is more secure, thanks to a bill enacted this spring that makes paid petition circulators more accountable, Gov. John Baldacci said Thursday.

Baldacci joined sponsors of the legislation in his office for a ceremonial signing of the bill, which was prompted by an incident last fall in the Androscoggin County town of Greene, where a town clerk discovered fraud on petitions seeking a tax reform repeal vote.

“I noticed my neighbor’s signature was on there and I go, ‘That’s not his signature,’” Sally Herbert said. “And then I go down two or three lines and I go, ‘This guy has been dead for a few years.’“

She called the Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees elections, after finding one petition page with 29 signatures, “and every one of them was forged.”

“The alarm bells went off,” said Sen. John Nutting, D-Leeds, who sponsored the bill that passed.

“Just to think somebody could pull this off.”

The law, which will take effect in July, requires anyone who is paid to collect petition signatures to register with the Secretary of State’s Office.

It also requires petition circulators to initial and number each petition so they can be held accountable.

Volunteer signature gatherers are not affected.

Critics worried that the bill would stifle the ballot petition process, and insisted during a debate that turned partisan that the law was not needed because the process — as shown by Hebert’s discoveries — was working fine. Republicans opposed it.

Baldacci, a Democrat, said Thursday that the bill “strikes a careful balance” between the interests of those who want more safeguards against fraud and those who don’t want too many restrictions on the ballot initiative process.