AUGUSTA — The Maine House of Representatives on Tuesday advanced a revived effort to change Maine law to require that referendum campaigns obtain voter signatures from each of the state’s two congressional districts before qualifying for the ballot.

The House voted 90-57 on the proposal, which would require that the number of signatures obtained by referendum campaigns equal at least 10 percent of the total votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election from each congressional district. Current law only includes a minimum number of signatures statewide.

The majority vote keeps the bill alive, but supporters will ultimately need to line up more support to successfully change the Maine Constitution. Tuesday’s vote in the House was eight votes shy of the two-thirds majority the bill would eventually need in the final enactment vote.

The proposal was introduced last year and is one of several initiatives designed to curb what some activists believe is the ease with which out-of-state interest groups can utilize Maine’s citizen referendum law to advance legislation that cannot clear the Legislature. The proposal, L.D. 742, is a specific response to a 2014 bear-baiting campaign that qualified for the ballot after obtaining 75 percent of petition signatures from the more liberal 1st Congressional District.

The referendum was rejected by voters – overwhelmingly so in the more rural 2nd Congressional District.

Supporters say the bill will ensure that future referendums have demonstrated some support from both districts before reaching the ballot. The bill stalled in the Legislature last year after receiving several affirmative votes in the House and Senate. While a majority of lawmakers support the bill, such a change requires amending the Maine Constitution, thus requiring separate two-third votes by the House and the Senate. Maine voters would then have to ratify the change.

Currently, there are no requirements that signatures be obtained from specific geographic areas, and campaigns need only obtain a total number of signatures that equals at least 10 percent of the votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election. Based on the 2014 election, referendum campaigns would need 61,123 signatures to get on the ballot.

The bill would require the number of signatures obtained by campaigns to be at least 10 percent of the total gubernatorial votes in the 1st Congressional District – southern and coastal Maine – and 10 percent of the total gubernatorial votes in the 2nd Congressional District – western, northern and Down East Maine. That means future ballot initiatives would require approximately 29,000 signatures from the 2nd District and 32,000 from the 1st District, based on turnout from the recent gubernatorial election.

The proposal requires additional votes in the House and Senate.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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