Maine voters are going to get a lot of requests for their signatures in the months ahead, as the Secretary of State’s Office prepares to issue a dozen petitions for “people’s veto” campaigns to overturn state laws set to take effect in September.

The most recent application for a petition targets the assisted-suicide law that will allow a terminally ill patient to take a lethal dose of medication obtained from a physician. Activists also want to overturn the law that will prohibit the practice of “conversion therapy” on minors to change their sexual orientation. The other laws subject to people’s veto campaigns run the gamut, from measures that require health insurance providers, including Medicaid, to cover abortion services to others that switch Maine back to a presidential primary or eliminate the religious exemption for childhood vaccinations for schoolchildren.

Conservative activist Jack McCarthy of northern Aroostook County has filed most of the applications, while interest groups such as the Christian Civic League of Maine and Mainers for Health and Parental Rights also have submitted applications.

Those seeking to get their questions on the ballot in November have a short time to gather the 63,067 valid voter signatures they need, which is equal to 10 percent of the number of voters who participated in the last statewide governor’s election.

To get on the Nov. 5 ballot, signatures would need to be submitted sometime in early August, to give the secretary of state 30 days to validate the petitions before the Sept. 6 ballot deadline, said Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

If petition campaigns miss the Sept. 6 deadline, Muszynski said they could get on a ballot next spring as long as the signatures are gathered and submitted to municipal clerks for initial review before the laws targeted by the petitions go into effect, which would be Sept. 19. She said petitioners would need to get their signatures to local clerks by Sept. 13, and the clerks would have to verify signatures and send signed petitions to the state by Sept. 18.


Voting on whether to overturn the laws would happen on March 3, the date of the presidential primary, or on the June 9 primary, if the people’s veto campaign to overturn the new presidential primary law gathers enough signatures to put that law on hold.

McCarthy, a resident of Woodland, applied for 14 people’s veto petitions but two were rejected because the bills in question – the state budget and one setting up a task force on climate change – already had become law.

McCarthy also applied for petitions for two other laws for which other groups already had filed petition applications, Muszynski said in an email.

McCarthy’s nine other applications, for vetoes on laws covering everything from automatic voter registration to one making racial profiling by police illegal, are under consideration by Dunlap.

McCarthy is associated with a group of “sovereign citizens” who embrace self-governance, reject most forms of government authority and met numerous times with former Republican Gov. Paul LePage. McCarthy said Tuesday that he had little doubt voters would be willing to sign the petitions.

An application for a petition must include the names, addresses and signatures of at least five Maine voters. Among those signing McCarthy’s applications is Fairfield resident Derek Levasseur, a Republican who has said he will challenge Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, for their party’s nomination for the Senate race in 2020.


McCarthy said he was waiting for Dunlap’s decision and the final wording of the petitions he has asked for before saying too much publicly. But McCarthy said he did not believe he would have any problem gathering the requisite number of signatures needed by early to mid-September.

“I think we will do it way before then,” McCarthy predicted. “I think people are irate enough with these draconian laws that it shouldn’t be a problem. People will jump at the chance to veto laws that infringe on religious liberty.”

Passing a people’s veto can be a daunting challenge that usually involves a statewide campaign with the financial backing to not only gather the necessary signatures but also to fund advertising on the issue.

The last successful people’s veto in Maine was in June 2018, when voters overturned a law enacted by the Legislature that would have repealed ranked-choice voting after residents approved it at the ballot box.

David Farmer, a Democratic political consultant who has worked on campaigns for ballot questions as well as for people’s vetoes, said success often depends on a well-established organization backing the campaign. He also noted that voters may not have the patience to sign multiple petitions for different bills at one time, and that each petition needs about 63,000 signatures.

“It’s not just 63,000,” Farmer said. “It’s 63,000 times nine or times how many petitions they are going for.” Farmer pointed out that the Secretary of State’s Office had approved only one of the applications and released it for signature collection as of Tuesday.


“And every day they are not out there is a day they lose and they don’t get back,” Farmer said. “You need a lot of money or you need a big organization to successfully collect that amount of signatures and preferably you have both.”

So far only one group has formed a political action committee to collect funds to support a people’s veto campaign, according to records of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Campaign Practices.

That PAC, Mainers for Health and Parental Rights, hopes to veto the law that eliminated philosophical and religions exemptions for school vaccines. The group has filed only its initial registration and has not reported any campaign donations or expenditures.

Cara McCormick, who worked for the Committee on Ranked Choice Voting, said that campaign used 1,800 volunteers to gather signatures for the veto overturning the Legislature’s repeal of ranked-choice voting. She said the committee had an established network and organization that was already in place from the previous ballot question campaign and volunteers were ready and motivated.

McCormick also noted that ballot campaigns often collect a large number of voter signatures on Election Day in November. She said groups working on the current people’s veto efforts will not have that advantage.

“Without the benefit of an Election Day, more than half a million valid signatures would be a very, very high hurdle,” McCormick said.


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