Maine Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, looks through papers at his desk in the State House in Augusta in this August 2019 file photo. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — An effort to bar noncitizens from voting in local elections did not get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, the Maine secretary of state’s office announced Monday, ending a two-year effort to force a statewide referendum on the issue.

The referendum push led by Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, and a national interest group had little room for error as proponents submitted just over 66,000 signatures, only 3,300 more than it needed to make the ballot. But more than 25,000 — a staggering sum — were found invalid, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said Monday. Half were nullified because they were not certified as belonging to a registered voter in the municipality.

Faulkingham began his effort to restrict noncitizen voting in local elections — something they are already unable to do, according to Attorney General Aaron Frey — in 2019 with the backing of the conservative Liberty Initiative Fund amid similar pushes nationwide. He also had a bill before the Legislature that aimed to codify the same restrictions, but it died earlier this month.

The effort may still have long-lasting effects on state policy. A federal judge put a state law requiring petition circulators to be Maine residents on hold last month after referendum proponents sued the state, arguing the law imposes free speech restrictions. The decision would have allowed for an out-of-state consultant to be hired while the case moves forward. Bellows has appealed that decision to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

But the ruling did not come quickly enough to help referendum proponents hire professional circulators, Faulkingham said. He said a quicker one would have prevented some invalid signatures from being collected, although he had not reviewed the state’s determination for why some were thrown out.

Faulkingham said he received thousands of signatures after the deadline that might have made a difference in the referendum’s fate.

“The clock just ran out on us,” he said.