- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - A Maine lawmaker said he’s going to try to address the use of video recording at polling places, saying the tactic used in a gun control petition drive could have a “chilling effect” on voters.

No laws were violated when a group calling itself Project Dirigo videotaped voters who signed a gun control petition that was circulated at polling places on Election Day. But Sen. Bill Diamond, a former secretary of state, said the tactics were designed to intimidate voters who support putting gun control on the ballot in 2016.

“They’re really impeding on the process. They’re trying to intimidate,” Diamond said Wednesday. “I would’ve been upset if it happened to me because I think it’s inappropriate.”

So-called video tracking is a staple of modern political campaigns. Opposition groups often have someone videotaping candidates in an attempt to catch them doing or saying something embarrassing.

But it’s finding its way into polling places under the guise of maintaining election integrity, and it’s an issue that election officials are grappling with nationwide. The proliferation of cellphones and digital cameras makes it easy to record polling activities, leading to complaints of intimidation, said Kay Stimson from the National Association of Secretaries of State.

“At the same time, there have been a number of recent court rulings that tend to support the right of people as a free speech activity to take photos or videos around a polling place,” she said.

Such tactics had never been employed inside a Maine polling place before Tuesday.

Shane Belanger from Project Dirigo said the goal was to monitor the petition-gathering process to make sure voters were given correct information before signing the petitions.

Some voters said they didn’t like having a stranger videotaping their actions.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said the attorney general confirmed that videotaping was legal. And it’s difficult to argue that petition-gathering isn’t a public process when petitions eventually become public record, he said.

At the same time, he continues to have concerns about videotaping. “The presence of a camera does change the social dynamic, which isn’t contemplated by the law,” he said.

Years ago, similar complaints of intimidation were made when critics of a petition aimed at taxing water withdrawn from state aquifers by Poland Spring stationed themselves at polling places to argue with voters considering signing the petition. But the use of so-called petition “blockers” faded away in subsequent elections, Dunlap said.

Diamond, D-Windham, said he thinks that videotaping will continue unless lawmakers do something about it. “The seed has been planted. This thing can go out of control. We’ve got to nip it in the bud,” he said.

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