Final push begins for ‘people’s veto’ referendums in Maine

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Organizers of ballot measures aimed at undoing the Death With Dignity Act, restoring religious exemptions for vaccines, and stopping taxpayer funding for abortions through Medicaid are making a final push for petitions to stop the laws from going into effect.

The state of Maine did not receive any signatures in time for any so-called “people’s veto” referendums to appear on the November ballot. But those efforts are still alive.

Petition gatherers have until Sept. 18 — when the laws take effect — to submit more than 63,000 signatures to stop the laws from going into effect until a statewide vote next year. The votes would take place either in March or June.

“We are feeling pretty confident in our chances of getting the signatures that we need,” said Cara Sacks, co-chair of the drive to turn back a state law that eliminated philosophical and religious exemptions for vaccinations that are required by schools.

The coalition already has more than 50,000 signatures. The goal is to collect another 30,000 to ensure that there are more than enough, she said.

Likewise, a coalition that’s targeting a physician-assisted suicide law and another law requiring Maine’s Medicaid program and private insurers to cover abortion are confident that they’ll collect enough signatures before the deadline.

Churches that aren’t normally politically active have become engaged in opposition to both laws, joining Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Deeley and other groups that oppose the measures, said Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine.

There are many more people’s veto questions.

Jack McCarthy, of Woodland, Maine, who’s listed as the lead petitioner for most of them, said his small group of volunteers is focusing primarily on a handful the people’s veto efforts: the abortion law, vaccine exemptions, physician-assisted suicide, Maine’s “new green deal,” a ban on gay conversion therapy, and presidential primaries.

He said it’s unclear if those efforts will succeed.

“You know what, it’s still worth doing,” he said. “I want to finish it. I would like to get the required number of valid signatures, but I also got a chance to talk to hundreds and hundreds of people. People are waking up that something is wrong,” he said.

If there are enough signatures, then the referendum votes would take place during Maine’s new presidential primaries in March — unless the primaries are derailed by a petition drive aimed at reinstating the state’s traditional caucus system.

If enough signatures are collected to stop the presidential primaries, then the referendums would go on the next statewide ballot in June.

There was too little time for petition drives to collect signatures in time for the ballot this fall.

The November ballot will feature just two statewide questions: a $105 million transportation bond that was just approved by Maine lawmakers in a special session, and a constitutional amendment that’s aimed at making it easier for disabled people to sign petitions.

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