LEWISTON — It can take just a few seconds to verify that a signature on a petition is valid, according to Lewiston City Clerk Kathy Montejo, assuming the signer has legible handwriting and hasn’t moved around much.

“But you have to take into account that people are signing these things in parking lots, balancing their grocery bags in their other arms,” Montejo said.

Legibility often suffers, she said.

It can take several minutes to verify some signatures. Put between 30 and 60 signatures on a petition page and more than 3,321 petitions reviewed since December and you have a major time commitment.

Multiply that time commitment by every municipality in Maine, and you get an idea of why municipal clerks in Maine have been so busy this month.

Nine groups are passing petitions across the state, aimed at getting questions on the November ballot. Issues range from legalizing marijuana to increasing state funding for schools to legalizing a new casino. Those petitions are due in the Maine Secretary of State’s office in Augusta by Monday.


That has the clerks scrambling to get finished. Montejo said her staff will wrap up their review by Thursday.

“The petition groups need time to collect them from us and get them up to Augusta by Friday,” she said. “There won’t be time to mail them.”

Her colleagues in Bangor are finished and Lisbon is also done, she said. Lewiston got a late start counting because her staff was busy processing the ballots for Lewiston’s mayoral runoff election into December.

“And that means we may have had more signatures,” she said. “The best place to get petitions signed is at an election, because you know those people are registered voters. And they’ve had two in this time period — one in November and again in December.”

It takes time to vet each signature, she said. First, the clerk checks the printed name in the right-hand column, searching the computerized voter rolls. If the address is the same in the record as it is on the petition, they mark it as valid and move to the next one.

But if the printed name is hard to read — and many are — the clerks have to guess.


“If we only have the first few letters on each name, we search for any names that fit that description,” she said. “There might be five or six of them, and then we have to check each one.”

They pull the voter registration card, comparing the address and the signature. If the signature doesn’t match, it’s marked as not valid. If the signature matches but the address doesn’t, that could mean the person has moved and not notified the city.

“We are not handwriting experts,” she said. “If it looks the same to us, we pass it. But it’s a judgment call. I can pull a card and say it’s a match. Someone else might not see it. So you do it the best you can.”

Montejo said her office has been busy. They brought in one full-time temp and a part-timer and borrowed some staff from other city departments. Montejo and Deputy Clerk Kelly Brooks have put in plenty of overtime, too, working until 10:30 p.m. a few nights and coming in on weekends to get the project done.

“We have other jobs we need to get done, too,” she said. “We have people coming to our windows, registering dogs, getting birth certificates.”


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