Activists and interest groups converged on the State House Wednesday to oppose a bill that could make it more difficult for referendum campaigns to qualify for the ballot.
The proposal prohibits the ability to collect voter signatures near polling places. Opponents say the proposal will make it harder for volunteer-driven campaigns to gather the signatures needed to initiate Maine’s direct initiative process, which has been used recently to legalize recreational marijuana, overhaul Maine’s election system, expand Medicaid and raise the minimum wage.
The voter-approved laws have dominated the work of the current legislature, prompting some lawmakers to call for restrictions.
Zach Heiden, the ACLU of Maine’s legal director, says the proposal violates the First Amendment protection of political speech.
“You can’t restrict core political speech just because it may inconvenience somebody. That’s not a sufficient justification,” he says.
But David Trahan of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine says some type of buffer could bring order back to the polling places.
“Having petition circulators in the polls, particularly if it’s not managed well, can be a real confusing day. It’s intimidating for voters,” he says.
Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap included the provision in a bill that mostly makes housekeeping changes to state election laws. Dunlap says the proposal barring signature collection in and near polling places isn’t designed to subvert the direct democracy process, but to restore order at polling locations.
Similar proposals have been floated and defeated in previous legislatures.