Inside Augusta

People’s Veto effort to repeal vaccine mandate qualifies for March 2020 ballot

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Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap confirmed Thursday his office had certified the petitions submitted by Mainers for Health and Parental Rights to overturn LD 798, a law passed in the First Session of the 129th Legislature that repeals religious and philosophical exemptions to childhood vaccinations.

According to the press release issued by the Department of the Secretary of State, Mainers for Health and Parental Rights submitted 29,370 petitions containing 95,871 signatures, 79,056 of which were deemed valid. To qualify for ballot access in Maine, petitioning groups must collect a number of signatures equivalent to 10 percent of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, or 63,067 based on Maine’s 2018 gubernatorial election turnout. Mainers for Health and Parental Rights easily surpassed the threshold by nearly 16,000 signatures.  

A pair of new laws also passed in the First Session will impact the people’s veto effort of LD 798. Because of Maine’s new law establishing a presidential primary system, the issue will appear on Mainers’ ballots in the March 2020 presidential primary election instead of the June 2020 statewide primary elections. This gives petitioning groups and their opponents less time to organize a campaign and means the issue will be voted on in a statewide election where turnout is expected to be dominated by registered Democrats, who will be selecting their 2020 presidential nominee.

The change was the subject of controversy earlier this year when the groups leading people’s veto efforts to undo several laws passed in 2019 said they were originally told by Secretary Dunlap that, if their petitioning efforts were successful, the issues would appear on the June 2020 ballot.

In addition, the passage of LD 534 will change the form of the question that appears on the ballot. Previously, both citizen’s initiative and people’s veto questions were required to be phrased so that an affirmative vote is in favor of the referendum.

This requirement was nixed for people’s veto questions, and new language was added requiring ballot questions to be written “as simply as is possible.” This should help prevent voters from encountering complicated and confusing people’s veto questions as they did in 2018 for ranked-choice voting.

LD 534 also included a provision that requires the Secretary of State to print on the ballot a statement prepared by the Attorney General that describes what a “yes” vote favors and what a “no” vote opposes. This language must appear directly below each question that appears on the ballot and above the space where a voter makes his or her choice on the question.

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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