AUGUSTA — Maine election officials are verifying petitions for a ballot measure requiring criminal background checks for all private gun sales in the state.

The group Maine Moms Demand Action submitted petitions to the Secretary of State’s office Tuesday. Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn says the group claimed it has more than 72,000 signatures certified by cities and towns.

Flynn’s office has until Feb. 18 to verify the petitions. The group needs 61,123 valid signatures to send the measure to the state ballot in November.

If certified for the Maine ballot, the campaign to expand Maine’s background check requirements is expected to draw considerable interest – and money – from gun control advocates and gun owners’ rights groups in Maine and around the country.

Maine and federal law now require commercial gun dealers and retailers to run the names of potential buyers through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System operated by the FBI, but private sales are not covered. The proposed ballot question would ask Mainers whether they support expanding Maine’s criminal background requirements to sales that occur at gun shows as well as in private, person-to-person transactions.

If passed by Maine voters, the measure would require many private sellers to request that registered gun dealers run background checks on potential buyers through the federal system. Many licensed gun dealers in Maine already offer to run background checks for private sales for a fee.

The referendum campaign is being led by Maine Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense but has been largely financed by Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.