After facing a number of referendums last November with questionable constitutionality, one state senator is looking to prevent such questions from being posed to Maine voters.
Republican Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Androscoggin, submitted legislation this week that would amend the Maine State Constitution and prevent unconstitutional referendum questions from appearing on Maine ballots.
The bill, LD 1411, would establish a process whereby Maine’s governor, attorney general, state legislature, or five-hundred citizens could request an opinion from Maine’s Supreme Court on the constitutionality of a proposed referendum question. If deemed unconstitutional by the court through majority vote, Maine’s secretary of state would be forced to reject the proposal and it would not appear on the ballot.
Brakey’s proposal comes in response to Questions 3 and 5 last November, which drew pushback from conservatives in Maine who viewed both measures as unconstitutional. Attorney General Janet Mills, likely considered an opponent by Maine conservatives, even released a detailed eight-page legal opinion in March of last year that questioned the constitutionality of Question 5, which implements Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) in Maine.
In the letter, Mill writes, “L.D. 1557 does raise significant constitutional concerns, and it may not be possible to implement ranked-choice voting as envisioned by this legislation without amending the Maine Constitution.”
Despite the concerns, Question 5 passed with 52 percent of the vote in November. As a result, one of the first tasks for the 128th Legislature this session was to send the RCV proposal to the courts.
“The constitutional rights of Maine people should never be subject to a majority rule process,” Sen. Brakey said in a press release. “We have a constitutional system just for that purpose: to protect the constitutional rights of Maine people from the whims of the moment. As outside special interests increasingly seek to exploit our state’s referendum process, this legislation would establish that our fundamental rights as Maine people are not up for vote.”
As a constitutional amendment, if Brakey’s bill is passed by the Legislature, Maine voters would have the chance to approve the measure at the ballot box next November.
The bill is expected to have bipartisan support and will be referred to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee for public hearing and work session.