FILE - Campaign petition drive ballot initiative

A November referendum question aims to authorize legislation to allow people with physical disabilities to use alternative signatures to sign initiative petitions.

Citizens who have physical disabilities already are permitted the use of alternative signatures on candidate nomination petitions, voter registration paperwork and similar forms. But the state constitution currently requires an original signature on initiative petitions.

Richard Langley, who is the deputy director of Disability Rights Maine, told Maine Public Radio that the organization is not aware of any cases of people being hampered by current law, but that it could pose a concern at some point.

The referendum question reads, “Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to allow persons with disabilities to sign petitions in an alternative manner as authorized by the Legislature?”

An alternative signature can be placed via a signature stamp, or by another registered Maine voter who signs for the person both in their presence and at their instruction. That signature must be on record with the office of Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. Under current law, if someone applies an alternative signature to a citizens’ initiative or people’s veto petition, it would be not be valid, according to a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office.

The bill to put the measure on the ballot was sponsored by freshman state Rep. Bruce White, D-Waterville, who decided to propose the change to ensure the state’s voting system is fully accessible to all Maine residents.

In a news release earlier this year, White said, “I’m proud to stand up for my fellow Mainers so that all of them can participate in our democracy.”

Langley described the referendum as a relatively narrow but important step in the pursuit of full voting access for those with disabilities. He suggested that significant hindrances still exist in outdated polling places that have not been renovated to abide by the federal American with Disabilities Act. In some cases, poll workers may not have properly set up voting apparatus for the physically disabled, he added.