Complaints about signature gathering practices are nothing new in Maine


News outlets across the state last week reported that some signers of the petition advancing a people’s veto of LD 798, the law that eliminates philosophical and religious exemptions to mandatory vaccinations, were misled to believe they were signing a petition to support mandatory vaccinations. While this conduct should certainly be frowned upon if true, this isn’t the first time that the secretary of state has received complaints of this nature, nor will it be the last.

According to Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, requests to remove signatures from petitions are made on “almost every [petition] drive.” To date, the secretary of state’s office has received “a few dozen” complaints regarding signatures on the pending people’s veto petition. Since this occurs in nearly every ballot initiative campaign, there must be something that can be done to prevent people from being misled before signing petitions.

The answer? The most viable solution is already in place.  

According to Dunlap, misrepresenting the intent or impact of a petition is allowable speech under the First Amendment and cannot be regulated by the government. In addition, it would be logistically difficult to allow signatories to remove their names from petitions after they have already signed.

The secretary of state’s office only has 30 days to verify that the groups or individuals circulating the petition have collected the required 63,067 valid signatures to qualify for ballot access. Dunlap said allowing people to remove their name could “turn into a new campaign” where people are encouraged to lower the total number of signatures collected by requesting their signatures be removed. Further, this would consume valuable time that the secretary of state’s team needs to ensure they have completed the signature validation process in the 30-day window.

The most effective solution is to encourage people to read the petition before they sign it. State law currently requires petition circulators to have the language of the proposed change attached to the petition for citizens to review before signing. Therefore, it is the signer’s responsibility to read and fully understand what they are signing. Put simply, don’t put your John Hancock on something just because a petition circulator claims it is a good idea. 

According to a recent Portland Press Herald article, one woman claimed she was intimidated into signing the people’s veto petition by her chiropractor. Another woman said she was misled because she was told the people’s veto would strengthen vaccination laws. While these testimonials are troubling, anyone who signs a petition should take a moment to read the text of the initiative beforehand to ensure they don’t experience buyer’s remorse.

Would you sign any other document without reading the fine print? Probably not. 

The moral of the story? It is incumbent upon you to take the time to read what you’re signing, regardless of what a petition circulator may claim. These are either volunteers who believe in the cause or they are being paid for each signature they collect. Either way, they have incentive to collect as many signatures as possible, even if it means misrepresenting the truth.

That means it’s your responsibility to read before you sign.


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