November 20, 2019
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Maine conservatives suspend 2020 referendum drive to bar noncitizens from voting

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, looks through papers in the State House in this August file photo. He was leading a referendum effort to bar noncitizens from voting in local elections that he said has been suspended due to insufficient fundraising.

AUGUSTA, Maine — An effort from Maine conservatives to put a referendum on the 2020 ballot to bar noncitizens from voting in municipal elections has been suspended, with an organizer saying the campaign couldn’t raise the money to guarantee enough signatures.

Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, said in a Facebook post on Saturday that the initiative was not able to “locate the last several tens-of-thousands of dollars” to ensure the effort would make the ballot, despite claiming $270,000 in funding commitments.

The effort would have needed more than 63,000 signatures to put the issue on the November 2020 ballot. Faulkingham said the winter timing of the ramp-up would have been “costly” and would have required the campaign to rely mostly on paid gatherers to collect the signatures.

People who are not U.S. citizens cannot vote in federal and state elections. But while state law says anyone who votes in a municipal election must be a U.S. citizen, the Maine Constitution does not require those voting for municipal or county offices to be citizens, according to a 2009 opinion from Democratic Gov. Janet Mills when she served as attorney general. Mills and all of her opponents in the 2018 election told the Portland Press Herald they opposed letting noncitizens vote.

No municipality allows noncitizens — who made up 2 percent of Maine’s population in 2017, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — to vote. The Democratic-led Legislature rejected constitutional amendments to bar noncitizens from voting this year. Portland voters rejected a measure to allow noncitizens to vote in local elections in 2010.

The Maine effort was loosely linked to similar initiatives in other states backed by supporters of President Donald Trump that could serve to bolster conservative turnout in his election year. Citizen Voters Inc., a nonprofit that does not have to disclose its donors, gave $8.3 million to a Florida referendum campaign as of July.

Republican operative organizer Paul Jacob, a driver of a successful effort in North Dakota, told the Bangor Daily News in August that he was offering advice to the organizers of the effort. But he and Tim Mooney — the head of a consulting firm in Arizona tied to the Citizen Voters efforts — would not say whether they planned to make a financial commitment.

Jacob ended up providing about a third of the $13,985 contributions that the Maine Citizen Elections Committee reported at the end of September through his Virginia-based nonprofit, the Liberty Initiative Fund, according to documents filed with the Maine Ethics Commission. Jacob and Mooney did not immediately return Wednesday messages seeking comment.

Other donors included political committees run by Assistant Maine House Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle; Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Bradley; and former state Rep. Paula Sutton, R-Warren. The group held a September fundraiser featuring former Gov. Paul LePage.

The committee spent just $1,254, most of it on online advertisement and website design. Faulkingham said in his Saturday post that he would work to return contributions to donors.

 



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