Secretary of State Matt Dunlap answers questions during a Dirigo Speaks event at the Bangor Arts Exchange in November 2018. Credit: Gabor Degre

AUGUSTA, Maine — Leaders of three efforts to overturn major laws passed by Maine’s Democratic-led Legislature said they’re considering “all options” — including a referendum and lawsuits — after getting inconsistent guidance on the timing of a people’s veto election.

The office of Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat, told the Bangor Daily News last month if the efforts made the ballot, the election would be in March 2020 because of a constitutional provision slating people’s veto efforts for the next statewide election.

Proponents of the effort said Dunlap’s office told them at the outset of their campaigns the election would be held in June. There’s a major difference between the two, since March is when Democrats will hold Maine’s new presidential primary. With President Donald Trump facing no serious Republican primary threat, the electorate would be dominated by Democrats.

They would be unlikely to back the people’s veto efforts, which would mostly rely on conservatives who favor repealing laws passed in 2019 to allow doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients, allow abortions to be funded with state Medicaid money and end nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine requirements.

Backers of those campaigns met with Dunlap on Thursday, where he took responsibility for the unclear guidance given by his office. He said later in the day that his office did not account for the new primary law — which passed at the end of the legislative session in June — when giving the guidance days later. His office’s stance is that the election will be in March.

“I’m the department head. This was on me,” Dunlap said. “Yes, this was inaccurate information.”

Carroll Conley, the executive director of the socially conservative Christian Civic League of Maine, which is leading the campaigns to repeal the so-called “death with dignity” and abortion laws, said knowing the March date earlier would have changed his group’s strategy and prevented a waste of money.

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Organizers of the effort to repeal the vaccine law estimated that they have already collected 30,000 of the more than 63,000 signatures needed to make the ballot, but that news of the difficult March timing has sapped the bid of financial and grassroots momentum.

Conley and representatives of the vaccine campaign said the three campaigns are considering “all options” — which include ending people’s veto efforts to run a referendum bid for later in 2020 instead or suing the state over the timing — given the guidance from Dunlap’s office.

“Our job is to be honest with all the people we represent and to encourage them, and sharing this information with them is going to be very disheartening,” said Sarah Kenney of Orono, one of the leaders of the campaign against the vaccine law.

It is going to be difficult for the efforts to make the ballot anyway: Proponents of the people’s veto drives would have to submit the 63,000 signatures from registered voters by Sept. 18 — 90 days after the end of the Legislature’s 2019 session. The efforts cannot be on the November ballot because of an early August ballot printing deadline.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...