Unfortunately, safeguards for ensuring transparency and accountability associated with petition signature collection need to be strengthened. The lack of proper safeguards leaves the initiative and referendum process open to fraud and undue influence from special interest groups. Indeed, this past summer we witnessed alleged fraud in the Town of Greene. It was only with the help of a conscientious town clerk that the system avoided validating forgeries.
LD 1690 represents a significant step forward for transparency and accountability and a major step backward for fraud and special interests with deep pockets. The bill allows for Mainers within a certain time period to remove their names from petitions for direct initiatives or people’s vetoes.
This is especially important because a paid circulator may have a financial incentive to deceive or coerce would be signatories. This simple check and balance allows such signatories to correct such a “mistake.”
LD 1690 also requires hired petition organizations to register with the Secretary of State. Rather than discourage signature collection, this measure merely opens the process to more accountability so that all Mainers can know who and what is influencing or motivating a direct initiative or people’s veto. Under this bill, registration would be an easy step and would do much to foster transparency.
The bill also expands the time pursuant to which the Secretary of State’s findings on signature certification can be challenged. Expanding the time period to ten days from five is of no administrative, financial or other inconvenience, but it would allow for a reasonable timeframe in which to review petitions for possible irregularities.
Mainers deserve to know as much about the procedural aspects of an issue or referendum as they do about the substantive aspects. They also deserve to know who has a financial stake in signature collection.
LD 1690 helps make our direct initiative and people’s veto processes more transparent and accountable and therefore deserves our support.