AUGUSTA — Groups hoping to overturn controversial new laws dealing with abortion, assisted suicide and vaccinations, among others, were scrambling Friday to turn in petition signatures needed to put the issues to Maine voters.

But it was unclear Friday evening which, if any, of the dozen “people’s veto” petition campaigns in Maine had gathered enough signatures to qualify for next year’s ballot.

“I’m encouraged but I have no idea if we have the numbers,” said Jack McCarthy, an Aroostook County conservative activist involved in most of the initiatives. “It’s a herculean effort. It was fun, it was rewarding and it was exhausting.”

After gaining control of both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office last November, Democrats pushed through a host of progressive initiatives during the legislative session that ended in June. Opponents of the new laws – most =from the conservatives side – responded by filing paperwork to potentially trigger referendum questions on a dozen of the new laws.

For two months, petition circulators have been gathering signatures in hopes of blocking new laws that would: eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions for childhood vaccinations; hold presidential primary elections in Maine next March; allow MaineCare funds to pay for abortion services; allow nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to perform abortions; and enable terminally ill patients to obtain prescriptions for lethal doses of medication so they can end their own lives.

Other people’s veto campaigns are targeting new laws – due to take effect Thursday – that would prohibit racial profiling by police, prevent therapists from using “conversion therapy” on LBGTQ youth and reinstate popular financial incentives for installing solar energy systems.

Each people’s veto campaign must gather at least 63,067 signatures from registered Maine voters to qualify for the ballot. While the deadline to file those petitions with the Maine Secretary of State’s Office is Wednesday, campaigns had to submit signatures to municipal clerks by 5 p.m. Friday for verification.

“We have incredible volunteers, people who are driving all over the state,” said Carroll Conley, executive director of the conservative Christian Civic League of Maine.

The league focused most of its resources on campaigns to overturn a law that would require MaineCare and private health insurers to cover abortion services and the medication-assisted suicide law.

Conley said his organization received a strong response from parishioners at the churches around the state where they held events or gathered signatures. But because multiple organizations were gathering signatures to block the same bills – and because most of the Christian Civic League’s petition sheets had not yet come back from the local clerks – Conley said he wasn’t sure where the initiatives stood.

“Anecdotally, that feels good,” Conley said of the response signature gatherers received at churches. “But until we find out what kind of numbers we have … it’s hard to say.”

Representatives for the other organizations trying to overturn the “Death with Dignity” law as well as the mandatory vaccinations law could not be reached for comment Friday.

But several town and city clerks described a steady trickle or slow flow of petition signatures into their offices despite the large number of people’s veto campaigns underway.

In Portland, election administrator Melissa Caiazzo said staff had received about 500 petitions for validation as of late Friday afternoon. Most of those signatures were supporting people’s veto referendum questions on the childhood vaccinations mandate, medication-assisted suicide and the abortion laws.

Belfast had received 233 petition signatures to verify as of late Friday afternoon, according to City Clerk Amy Flood. In Lewiston, clerk Kathleen Montejo said her office had received “not a huge amount” of petitions but that more were coming in as the 5 p.m. deadline approached.

Qualifying for the ballot is no easy feat in Maine and requires organizations to typically gather significantly more signatures than the minimum number because a sizable chunk will be invalidated. But people’s veto efforts often succeed in Maine if they manage to get on the ballot.

In one of the highest-profile campaigns, Maine voters overturned a 2009 law that legalized same-sex marriage only to reverse themselves three years later and legalize same-sex nuptials in another ballot initiative. In 2010, voters overturned a tax reform package passed by a Democratic Legislature but, a year later, struck down Republican-led attempts to prevent same-day voter registration.

Last year, the majority of voters reaffirmed their support for ranked-choice voting by overturning a law that sought to delay using it in Maine elections.

McCarthy, the Aroostook resident who filed paperwork for most of this year’s people’s veto efforts, said he received generally positive responses from people when he approached them for signatures. While some opted not to sign, he said, he was thrilled to interact with people with informed opinions on both sides.

And as the clock ticked Friday afternoon, McCarthy was still organizing petition deliveries to clerks and awaiting their return.

“As of the end of the day today, it is what it is,” McCarthy said. “The fate is sealed as of 5 o’clock today.”

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