Sign hangs Tuesday from a table outside the Lisbon polling place. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

Outside the polling place at Lisbon High School on Tuesday, two people sat at a folding table collecting signatures for a possible ballot referendum.

They declined to give their names, but said somebody was paying them $2 per signature. They weren’t entirely clear who it was.

One of two homemade signs, hung with duct tape to the table, declared the petition aimed to put a referendum on the November 2021 ballot that would “make it that only U.S. citizens to vote in Maine.”

“Not out of country people,” the other sign added.

It turns out the petition drive, formally called “An Act To Clarify the Eligibility of Voters,” is the handiwork of a state representative from Winterport, Republican Billy Bob Faulkingham.

Faulkingham said Wednesday that he wants to close the door to the possibility some Maine cities and towns might try to let immigrants who are not American citizens vote in local elections, an idea that has occasionally arisen but not yet implemented.

A sign outside the polling place in Lisbon on Tuesday calls for people to back a referendum to block those who are not U.S. citizens from voting in Maine. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

“This is a real issue that is important to me,” he said.

He said that if everything goes according to plan, organizers will have enough signatures by the end of January to submit them in time for the proposal to land on the statewide ballot next November.

The effort is funded by a $300,000 contribution from Richard Uihlein, a shipping supplies magnate from Wisconsin who donated the cash to the Liberty Initiative Fund – Maine, a political action committee based in Virginia. He routinely dispenses big money to conservative causes and candidates.

Starting Oct. 26, the Liberty Fund has paid at least $40,000 to Ballot Access LL, based in North Carolina, to pay for petition circulators, according to campaign finance records.

The Liberty Fund also handed over $50,000 of the money last week to a political action committee based in Augusta, the We the People PAC, to help cover costs related to gathering signatures for the referendum, records show.

Faulkingham is the treasurer for We the People PAC, whose principal officer is state Rep. Heidi Sampson, a Republican from Alfred.

Billy Bob Faulkingham Maine Legislature

Faulkingham said the idea has its roots in a 2019 measure he introduced in the Legislature to amend the state constitution to clarify that only U.S. citizens can vote in Maine. The proposal failed to pass the Democratic-controlled state House.

Opponents argued that the change wasn’t needed.

The Maine Municipal Association said its members were “not comfortable with this proposal’s limitation on home rule authority” and that the state should “respect the right of each community” to decide for itself who should vote in municipal elections.

The issue has been batted around for more than a decade after activists in Portland began pressing to allow noncitizens to vote for municipal elections.

In 2009, then-Attorney General Janet Mills issued an opinion that while “people who are not U.S. citizens cannot vote in federal and state elections,” there is nothing in the Maine Constitution to prohibit them from voting in municipal races.

“I don’t agree with that,” Faulkingham said, but he’s glad that so far no town or city has allowed noncitizens to vote.

But he’d like to make sure it stays that way.

Faulkingham said that after his bid for a constitutional amendment fell short last year, he got a call from someone from Americans For Citizen Voting that nudged him to pursue a public referendum instead.

It would not have the same legal heft as a constitutional amendment, Faulkingham said, but it beats having nothing.

Initially, he said, he thought he might be able to get it on this year’s ballot, but realized quickly that was too difficult. So he opted to wait until last month to start gathering signatures with an eye on a 2021 referendum instead.

Despite the cold weather on Election Day, and snow in northern Maine, signature gathering is doing fine, he said.

“We’re well on our way,” Faulkingham said.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: