In this Oct. 6, 2021, file photo, Central Maine Power utility lines are seen in Pownal. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Falling shy of their signature-gathering goal, supporters of a referendum drive aimed at establishing a consumer-owned electric utility will extend their efforts — delaying a potential vote until next year.

Canvassers collected nearly three quarters of the roughly 63,000 signatures that are needed to force a statewide vote on the issue, and they will continue their signature-collection efforts in coming months, Stephanie Clifford, campaign manager for Our Power, said in a statement Wednesday.

“We’re in it for the long run and forging ahead until we get the job done. Every signature is valid for twelve months, and our ongoing efforts will soon give Mainers a choice,” she said.

It means that all of the major referendums that were initially slated for the 2022 ballot will be delayed into next year. Backers of a universal health care question and another one that would bar foreign government-owned companies from spending in Maine elections announced last week that they did not have the signatures for this year’s ballot.

The referendum drive gathered steam after Democratic Gov. Janet Mills vetoed a bill to eliminate Maine’s privately owned electric utilities by buying them out and replacing them with a consumer-owned utility that would be called Pine Tree Power.

Supporters said it’s time to replace Central Maine Power and Versant Power, which are owned by corporations in Spain and Canada, with an entity that works in the interest of Mainers instead of shareholders.

Pine Tree Power would keep rates low, respond faster to outages and support clean energy projects, they said.

Critics accused the bill’s supporters of underestimating the cost of buying the utility companies and said ratepayers would be saddled with billions of dollars of debt from the purchase and litigation.