It’s going to be far harder than many people realize for Gov. LePage and the Maine Republican Party to place their much-heralded referendum on the ballot next year.

Recent discussion of the details of the party’s Frankenstein initiative – which combines cuts and restrictions to public assistance with a reduction and eventual elimination of the income tax – has mostly focused on whether it should be two questions (or two separate initiatives) rather than one and how Secretary of State Matt Dunlap will bring the proposal into compliance with Maine law.

There’s a larger procedural issue, however. Based on the timeline for review of the proposed initiative, the signature-collection deadline and the Maine Republican Party’s own statements about their signature-gathering strategy, it will be difficult for them to place their initiative (or initiatives, if it gets split into two) on the 2016 ballot. I have strong doubts that they’ll make it in time.

The math is pretty simple. Under Maine law, the offices of the Secretary of State and the Revisor of Statutes have 15 business days to review a ballot initiative and suggest recommendations. If subsequent rounds of revisions are required, each one starts a new 10-day clock. After that, the Office of Fiscal and Program Review has another 15 days to assess the effects of the proposal on the state budget before petitions can be formatted and sent out for printing.

It is virtually unheard of for this process not to take the full time allotted, and sometimes even these statutory deadlines aren’t met. Then there’s the time it takes for the initiative backers to review changes and reply, and for the Secretary of State’s Office to format the petitions.

Based on their date of submission, the absolute soonest that the Republicans’ petition could reasonably be approved for signature collection is a few days after Election Day (Nov. 3). To make it any earlier, they would have had to accept whatever changes the secretary of state suggested immediately and hope that the fiscal review miraculously took far less time than usual.

This is important because an Election Day is the best opportunity for campaigns seeking to place a referendum on the ballot to gather their signatures. At no other time are there so many registered, interested voters turning out at specific locations, neatly divided by town.

The two recreational-marijuana campaigns, the minimum-wage increase campaign, the campaign to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund local education and the firearm background check campaign are all almost certainly planning on getting a large percentage of their signatures at the polls Nov. 3.

It’s now clear that the Republicans will miss out on this opportunity. According to Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, the Republicans submitted two changes to their proposal earlier this week, starting a new 10-day clock. This means that the chances of getting their petitions by Election Day have gone from incredibly unlikely to completely impossible.

So now, rather than volunteers sitting at tables at warm polling places (and Maine Republican Party Chairman Richard Bennett has declared that they intend to gather their signatures with volunteers rather than paid staff), they’ll have to mount a huge door-to-door campaign in cold weather and over the holidays in order to meet their deadline at the end of January.

It isn’t impossible for them to still succeed, but it will likely now require a large paid signature-collection program costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. That can’t be good for a party that’s already facing internal divisions over resources going to what some see as the governor’s pet referendum project, rather than being used to elect Republican candidates.

It didn’t have to be this way. Stand up for Students and Maine Moms Demand Action – the campaigns behind the two most recent initiatives to be approved – made sure to submit their proposals in late August in order to make the Election Day deadline. The Maine Republican Party waited until Sept. 23, despite LePage first proposing his income tax referendum way back in April.

The whole thing brings to mind the recent fiasco where LePage apparently thought (and was assured by his legal counsel) that he had more time than the law allowed to veto bills passed by the Legislature. In that case, he had a rude awakening and ended up accidentally passing into law several policies that he opposed.

The Republican Party may soon be facing a similar reckoning on its referendum campaign and similar questions about what went wrong.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie who works for the Maine People’s Resource Center. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @miketipping