PORTLAND — Petitioners seeking to grant voting rights to noncitizens collected about 1,000 signatures fewer than expected at the Portland polls Tuesday. Organizers blamed low turnout in Portland for the shortfall.

The petitioners, who are led by the League of Young Voters, had expected to turn the petitions in to the city clerk this week, but they are about 1,000 signatures short of their goal of 5,000.

The group now plans to collect 300 signatures a week before turning them in by the July 14 deadline, said Will Everitt, director of the League of Young Voters.

Petitioners must collect the signatures of 4,486 registered Portland voters to put the question on the November ballot.

The proposal would allow noncitizens who are legal residents to vote in city elections.

On Tuesday, there were 17 volunteer petitioners working at 10 of the city’s 11 polling places — the only polling place they skipped was the one on Peaks Island.

While Everitt said low turnout was an obstacle, City Clerk Linda Cohen said Tuesday’s turnout was relatively high. She said 28 percent of registered city voters cast ballots — the highest primary turnout since at least 2000.

The total included nearly 13,500 of Portland’s 48,000 registered voters, including 1,763 who cast absentee ballots.

To gather the remaining signatures, Everitt said, petitioners will be attending public events such as festivals and farmer’s markets. He said he is confident the group will meet its goal, even though gathering signatures becomes more difficult as more people sign the petitions.

“Each week gets harder because you are drawing from less people,” he said.

Everitt said petitioners have found that many opponents of the measure mistakenly assume it would allow illegal immigrants to vote. That’s not the case, he said — it would only apply to legal residents.

At this point, he said, petitioners are focused on finding supporters rather than educating people about the proposal. That effort will come later, he said.

“We aren’t trying to change people’s hearts and minds,” he said. “We just want to get it on the ballot.”

The petition drive began in March after the Portland Charter ?mmission rejected a proposal to put the issue on the ballot along with other proposed charter changes.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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