Citizens' Initiative

More victories for ballot initiative transparency

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Governor Janet Mills on Thursday, June 20 signed into law LD 534, sponsored by Rep. John Andrews, a bill that makes important reforms to Maine’s ballot initiative process. Coupled with the passage of LD 1209 earlier this session, it appears lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree there is more we can do to improve Maine’s ballot initiative process.

In fact, a roll call was ordered on LD 534’s enactment vote in the Senate where the measure prevailed 34-0. In the House, a roll call was not even ordered – the bill went under the hammer with no debate.

The passage of LD 1209 earlier this session to require public hearings for ballot initiatives and the signing of LD 534 on Thursday marks the most productive legislative session for ballot initiative reform in recent memory.

Under LD 534, the Secretary of State is required to draft ballot questions in a clear, concise and direct manner that describes the content of the question “as simply as is possible.”

In addition, the bill eliminates the current requirement that people’s veto questions be phrased in a manner so that a “yes” vote signifies support of the question. This change is aimed at preventing confusing questions like the 2018 ranked-choice voting people’s veto from appearing on our ballots in the future.

Finally, and most importantly, LD 534 requires that an explanation of the effect of a “yes” or “no” vote be printed directly on the ballot below each initiative and bond question considered by Maine voters. This is another major victory for transparency in the ballot initiative process that also empowers voters to make informed decisions on Election Day.

In his testimony supporting the measure, bill sponsor Rep. Andrews said, “Currently, our ballot initiative questions are worded in a way that most people do not understand until they’ve read it twenty times, and even then, they have questions. My wife has a Doctorate and even she wasn’t sure exactly what she was voting on for ballot initiative questions in the last election.”

“Ballot initiative questions that are extremely hard to read and understand are a big problem in the state of Maine. We have a real chance here as legislators to do some good with LD 534 for the voters in our districts. Democrats, Republicans and Independents all need to work together and do our job for the voters of Maine and fix these flawed and hard to comprehend ballot questions.”

Because LD 534 was submitted as emergency legislation, it became law immediately after it was signed by the governor. On Friday, June 21, Gov. Mills also signed into law LD 499, a bill that requires petition circulators to sign an affidavit affirming they reside and are registered to vote in Maine. The bill also requires people or organizations that pay petition circulators to provide the Secretary of State with a list of individuals who are being compensated for circulating petitions and information about the method of payment.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at The Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at MHPC. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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