Citizens' Initiative

This is Maine’s last shot at ballot initiative reform

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An important bill offering ballot initiative reform will be reconsidered by the Senate on Wednesday in what will be Maine’s last chance during the first session of the 128th Legislature to enact meaningful ballot initiative reform.

This type of reform is certainly necessary after the Maine Legislature and Maine Supreme Judicial Court, in one way or another, altered all four measures approved by Maine voters in 2016. The initiatives were overreaching and funded by out-of-state liberal interest groups intentionally using Maine as their guinea pig. Our elected officials truly had no choice.  

The bill the Senate will revisit, LD 31, requires organizers for ballot initiatives gather signatures in both of Maine’s congressional districts. The number of signatures collected in each district cannot be less than 10 percent of the total votes cast for governor in that district during the most recent gubernatorial election. If passed by the legislature, LD 31 would go to this November’s ballot where it would be voted on by Maine’s full electorate.

The measure has had no trouble passing in the House multiple times, however it has fallen short repeatedly in the Senate. Unfortunately, a number of absent legislators in the Senate led to the bill’s demise on July 20. Equally as troubling for LD 31 was Sen. Ben Chipman’s last ditch effort to save his signature gathering business in southern Maine, urging his Democratic colleagues to snub the measure in the eleventh hour. Unsurprisingly, most of them they conceded.

Luckily, an astute procedural move by Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason (who flew in on the same day just to meet his obligation to voters in Androscoggin County) resurrected LD 31, allowing it to be assessed one final time.

Currently, organizing groups in Maine need only the required 61,123 verified signatures to move an initiative onto the ballot, and those signatures can be acquired from anywhere in the state.

Traditionally, organizers have steered clear of central and northern Maine, gathering signatures primarily in Cumberland and York Counties where there are more people who tend to skew liberal on the political spectrum.

However, this has led to an influx of ballot initiatives in recent years, many of which are so lofty that the legislature is forced to amend them.

As noted above, all four prevailing ballot initiatives in 2016 were altered by the legislature or face legal scrutiny.

The rollout of the marijuana referendum, or Question 1, was delayed and the legislature established an implementation committee to ease public concerns surrounding legalized recreational marijuana. The 3 percent surtax on high-income earners from Question 2 was removed in the biennial budget agreement.

Question 4, which raised Maine’s minimum wage across all sectors of the state economy, was minimized when the Restaurant Workers of Maine successfully fought to reinstate Maine’s tip credit. Finally, Question 5, which enacts ranked-choice voting, was deemed unconstitutional in an advisory opinion by Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court and its future remains uncertain.

You would think after all of these legislative headaches resulting from ballot questions, the Maine Legislature would consider easing the burden by enacting reforms of the initiative process. Requiring signatures be gathered in both congressional districts will make it slightly more challenging for organizers to get their initiatives on the ballot, and Mainers would know on voting day that the question they’re considering has the support of people across the state.

Additionally, passage of LD 31 in the Senate on Wednesday does not guarantee the reform becomes law; it must still be voted on by the Maine people. Measures amending the Maine Constitution, ones that form organically and are vetted by the legislature, are the perfect kind of proposals for Maine citizens to vote on at the ballot box — much more so than the recent initiatives that have divided our state legislature created the first government shutdown since 1991. So, let the Maine people decide.

Voting down LD 31 on July 20 was also a political move by Senate Democrats, as its passage by the legislature would require the measure appear before Maine voters in November. Because conservatives would show up at the polls in droves to vote in favor of ballot initiative reform, liberals do not want the measure to compete with the Medicaid Expansion referendum, which has already garnered enough verified signatures to appear on the ballot.

Contact your state Senator and urge them to support LD 31 today so that it gains the two-thirds majority required to appear before Maine voters this November. 

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is a policy analyst for the Maine Heritage Policy Center. He can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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