The Legislature has taken the first step toward making it more difficult for citizen-initiated referendums to qualify for the ballot.

Currently, campaigns must collect signatures of at least 10 percent of the total vote from the most recent gubernatorial election. Right now, that’s a little more than 67,000 signatures.

If the bill that cleared the House on Thursday passes and is ratified by voters, ballot campaigns will need to collect signatures from no less than 10 percent of the gubernatorial vote from each congressional district.

The change to a proportional signature requirement is driven by lawmakers’ desire to prevent campaigns from focusing their petition circulating efforts in Portland and southern Maine.

The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, which supports the change, says current law has made it too easy for the Humane Society of the United States and a prominent gun control organization to qualify for the ballot despite their unpopularity in rural parts of the state.

Last year, a similar constitutional amendment failed to obtain the two-thirds approval needed to go to voters for final ratification.

Democrats largely opposed the bill, in part because progressives have used the referendum process to push policy initiatives they can’t get through the Legislature.

But an explosion in ballot initiatives last year, and the resulting legislative battles to amend or repeal them, have prompted both parties to consider a higher bar to qualify for the ballot.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.