- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - A group calling itself Project Dirigo videotaped voters who on Tuesday signed petitions seeking to put a gun control issue on the 2016 ballot, raising concerns about voter intimidation.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said polling officials must weigh First Amendment protections versus harassment of voters, and that videotaping people signing a petition may have crossed the line.

“The law is silent on it. There are a whole host of First Amendment issues, but there’s a fine line between advocating a position or harassing or intimidating voters,” Dunlap said.

In Portland, the video recording was happening at a couple of polling places. Project Dirigo volunteers said they wanted to record the petition process to ensure that voters were being given accurate information about the referendum, which would ask voters if they want to require criminal background checks for gun sales.

Shane Belanger, a volunteer with Project Dirigo, told the Portland Press Herald he was videotaping the petition process to be sure it was conducted legally. He also said a lawyer would review the tapes afterward.

“This is all about making sure the petition process is fair and transparent,” Belanger said.

Willy Rich, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, saw the videotaping at his polling place in Portland.

“It made me feel a little uncomfortable being videotaped. I didn’t know what they would do with that video,” he said.

Zach Heiden of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine saw the videotaping at his polling place. He said voter intimidation is subjective, but he thought it was a bad idea.

“At the polling place, people should be free to read, to think, to reflect and to vote. Trying to influence someone’s vote should take place outside polling places,” he said.

To force a statewide referendum, backers of a question must obtain the signatures of more than 61,000 registered voters.

Also seeking to get proposals on the November 2016 ballot are supporters of legalized marijuana, ranked-choice voting, a higher minimum wage and school funding. The Maine Republican Party is supporting two issues championed by Gov. Paul LePage: income tax cuts and welfare reform.

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