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GOP Drive for Petition Signatures Appears to Be Behind Schedule

Maine voters could be asked to decide a half dozen or more questions on the statewide ballot next November if all the groups circulating petitions are successful.

But those groups have only about two months left to collect more than 61,000 signatures, and that's a major hurdle, particularly for those who got a late start in the process.

The Maine Republican party hopes to collect enough signatures to put its welfare and tax reform proposals before the legislature...and ultimately before the voters next November.

Party Chairman Rick Bennett says the campaign has gathered about ten thousand signatures so far. that means it will need to average nearly that amount every week to meet the minimum threshold on time.

"Big task, a daunting task but we are working away at it," Bennett says.

University of Maine at Farmington political science professor Jim Melcher says even with the party structure fired up in support of the petition drive, collecting signatures over the holidays at the pace that is needed will be difficult.

"You know, they've got more behind them than a lot of petition drives typically do, but I think ah, I don't want to say impossible but I think they are going to have to do something they are not doing now," sys Melcher.

And Bennett says the campaign is doing things differently. He says a recent email appeal for volunteers from governor LePage has yielded 35 more petition circulators and he says the GOP is turning to county and municipal committees to circulate petitions -- not only at party functions but also at local community events. And Bennett says the party's voter databases are being used to identify likely petition signers.

"We also have a lot of good information in our database about voters that care about these issues and so we can focus on those voters and actually go visit them in their homes," Bennett says.

Bennett is optimistic the organizational effort will pay off with enough signatures by the February first filing deadline. Meanwhile, the only campaign to have its petitions validated so far is the ranked choice voting group, but others are close. Mainers for fair Wages, which is seeking to put a minimum wage increase on the ballot, collected 30,000 on Election Day and is preparing to submit petitions with 90,000 signatures to the Secretary of State. And David Boyer with the effort to legalize, regulate and tax the cultivation and distribution of marijuana says the group brought in 20,000 signatures on Election Day and has enough now to technically qualify. But Boyer says, more signatures will be gathered to provide a buffer against disqualified signatures.

"Because twenty percent of the signatures are bad you need twenty or twenty five percent more to make sure you have valid signatures," Boyer says.

Boyer says the group is aiming for 20,000 signatures over the next seven weeks through the holidays. Other petition drives are underway to force consideration of background checks in private gun sales and to increase the amount of state funding for local schools by increasing the taxes on those making more than $200,000 a year. In both cases if the groups are not successful this February they could submit petitions to the 2017 legislature to consider. If they are rejected by the legislature, a citizen initiative goes to the voters at referendum.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.