On November 7, Mainers will be asked to go to the ballot box to weigh in on eight referendum questions with a series of simple “yes” or “no” answers.
The first four questions that voters will see on election day are citizens’ initiatives — or legislative changes drafted and proposed by non-governmental entities.
Questions five through eight, on the other hand, are potential amendments to Maine’s state constitution that have been approved by the legislature but still require voter sign-off before they can be finalized.
To determine the order in which the eight questions would appear on the ballot, Maine’s Secretary of State Shenna Bellows drew folded pieces of paper out of a fishbowl.
To help Mainers understand the questions they will encounter should they vote next month, here’s a primer:
Questions 1-4: Citizens’ Initiatives
Question 1 — “Do you want to bar some quasi-governmental entities and all consumer-owned electric utilities from taking on more than $1 billion in debt unless they get statewide voter approval?“
At its most basic level, Question 1 is asking voters whether electric utilities and other quasi-governmental entities (like the Maine Turnpike Authority) should need explicit voter approval before accruing more than $1 billion in debt.
At a deeper level, however, Question 1 is about Question 3 — which proposes to replace Maine’s investor-owned utilities with the consumer-owned Pine Tree Power.
While Pine Tree Power has estimated there will be a $5 billion price tag associated with the acquisition of Maine’s current power transmitters — Central Maine Power (CMP) and Versant — opponents have suggested it could cost as much as $13.5 billion.
Consequently, should both Question 1 and Question 3 be approved by voters, Pine Tree Power would — in all likelihood — not be able to move forward without receiving additional clearance from voters in a subsequent statewide election in order to borrow the full sum of money necessary for the takeover.
Proponents of Question 1 — including the Maine Affordable Energy Coalition and No Blank Checks, both funded by CMP parent company Avangrid — view the measure as a “fail safe” should Question 3 be approved by voters, as this would force Pine Tree Power to receive Mainers’ explicit consent before borrowing anything in excess of $1 billion on the acquisition.
Others — including Pine Tree Power’s Our Power specifically — have argued that this is a means by which to “scare people from the possibilities and savings of Pine Tree Power,” suggesting that the numbers being promulgated by Question 1 supporters are exaggerated and “not based on any nonpartisan information.”
Question 2 — “Do you want to ban foreign governments and entities that they own, control, or influence from making campaign contributions or financing communications for or against candidates or ballot questions?“
The question asks voters to decide whether or not they want to prohibit foreign governments — as well as entities with at least 5 percent ownership by a foreign government — from campaigning for or against both candidates and ballot questions.
The measure would also require the media to do their “due diligence” whether or not the entity behind an advertisement is owned by a foreign government when making decisions about what to air or print.
Similarly to Question 1, Question 2 also stems — to some extent — from the controversy surrounding the creation of Pine Tree Power, although the initiative’s story can actually be traced as far back as the debate over the potential construction of the CMP corridor.
In 2019, the Quebec-owned Hydro-Quebec — the company that was set to supply electricity for the corridor — spent money campaigning in favor of the proposed corridor.
This ultimately raised questions about the legality of a foreign-owned entity spending money in a United States election. Although both state and federal law prohibited foreign interference with relation to candidates’ campaigns, the law was silent on the matter of state referendums.
After trying unsuccessfully to close this loophole in 2021, opponents of the corridor then formed a group called Protect Maine Elections which sponsored the effort to get Question 2 on the ballot this November.
Supporters of Question 2 argue that the measure would help ensure that Maine’s elections are centered around Maine’s needs and Maine’s people.
Opponents, on the other hand, make the case that this measure would prevent Maine companies with foreign investors from speaking out during election season. They also suggest that the law would place an undue burden on the media to determine who was eligible to advertise on election-related issues.
Question 2 is also related the potential establishment of Pine Tree Power on account of the fact that the legislation — had it been in place during this election cycle — would block CMP and Versant from speaking out about Question 3.
That’s because Versant parent company ENMAX is owned by the city of Calgary, Alberta, while CMP is a subsidiary Avangrid, which is a subsidiary of the Spain-based Iberdrola, whose biggest investor is the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar.
This citizens’ initiative also raises distinct Constitutional questions, particularly concerning potential First Amendment violations rooted in the “due diligence” provision directed at the media. (That’s part of the reason why Gov. Janet Mills has said she opposes Question 2.)
Several other states have already adopted similar measures prohibiting entities owned by foreign governments from contributing to state referendum campaigns.
Question 3 — “Do you want to create a new power company governed by an elected board to acquire and operate existing for-profit electricity transmission and distribution facilities in Maine?“
Question 3 — which has been one of the most talked-about questions on the ballot this year — asks Mainers whether they want to create a consumer-owned electric company that would take the place of the state’s current investor-owned energy providers, CMP and Versant.
A win for the “Yes” side would, in theory, force ENMAX and Avangrid to sell off their Maine-based assets to a new quasi-governmental entity.
That entity, Pine Tree Power, would be managed by a thirteen-member board comprised of seven individuals elected to represent Maine’s state senate districts and six designated experts.
The board would be subjected to Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, as well as laws preventing conflicts of interest.
While Our Power has registered in support of the initiative, the Avangrid-backed Maine Affordable Energy Coalition and Maine Energy Progress — backed by Versant parent company ENMAX — have registered in opposition.
Since neither CMP nor Versant have an interest in selling out to Pine Tree Power, there will likely be years worth of legal battles over the acquisition should Mainers vote in favor of Question 3.
Our Power expects three years of litigation, while the Maine Affordable Energy Coalition has said it could take as much as a decade.
Estimates concerning the potential costs to ratepayers vary considerably depending upon the source of the numbers. Both sides have claimed that their preferred course of action is in the best interest of ratepayers.
A non-partisan analysis prepared by London Economics International (LEI) for the Maine Public Utilities Commission (Maine PUC) reported that the change could cost ratepayers as much as $118 million during the first decade but save them up to $236 million over the course of thirty years.
According to Maine Public, however, a Maine economist by the name of Richard Silkman has stated that LEI “seriously misstated the financial consequences to Maine ratepayers” by basing their analysis on what he believes to be calculation errors and improper assumptions.
Silkman argued that Maine ratepayers could expect to save $858 million over the course of thirty years and eventually a sum of nearly $400 per household annually.
Concentric Energy Advisors estimated in a report funded by Avangrid that the takeover could actually end up costing ratepayers $4.7 billion more over a thirty year period.
Question 4 — “Do you want to require vehicle manufacturers to standardize on-board diagnostic systems and provide remote access to those systems and mechanical data to owners and independent repair facilities?“
With Question 4, Mainers are asked to decide whether or not they would like to require car manufacturers to standardize on-board diagnostic systems, as well as allow remote access to these systems and a car’s mechanical data for both owners and non-dealership repair facilities.
While generic parts manufacturers and independent repair shops have come out in support of the measure, members of the auto industry have spoken out against it.
Maine Automotive Right to Repair Committee is the leading campaign in support of Question 4, while the primary opposition to Question 4 comes from organizations like the Alliance for Automotive Innovation and the Maine Automobile Dealers Association.
Proponents of measures such as these — commonly referred to as “right to repair” bills — argue that they serve as a means by which to increase consumer choice by allowing vehicle owners to get repairs done by the mechanics of their choosing.
Opponents in the auto industry, however, have stated that independent mechanics already have access to all the necessary information, suggesting that supporters of Question 4 are interested in accessing vehicle data in order to market directly to consumers.
Question 4 supporters have said that although diagnostic information is currently available to a certain extent, critical data points are still being blocked from independent mechanics’ diagnostic systems.
As of now, there is an agreement between the Automotive Service Association and the Society of Collision Repair Specialists wherein manufactures “shall” make available for purchase the “same diagnostic and repair information” that’s made available to dealerships, including for hybrid and electric vehicles.
The agreement also required manufacturers to provide “specific telematic diagnostic and repair data” when necessary for an independent mechanic to repair a vehicle.
Question 4 supporters, however, have suggested that the agreement is not sufficient given that there is no enforcement mechanism involved.
In 2020, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to pass a similar vehicular right to repair law — a follow-up to earlier measures passed in 2012 and 2013 — which has since been held up in court.
As of 2022, Colorado enacted legislation aimed at securing the “right to repair” for wheelchairs.
This year, Colorado expanded its “right to repair” legislation to include agricultural equipment. New York and Minnesota also passed bills this year concerning the “right to repair” for electronic devices.
Privacy advocates have also warned that allowing remote access to all vehicles could have serious implications for data breaches and invasions of privacy.
Questions 5-8: State Constitutional Amendments
Question 5 — “Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to change the time period for judicial review of the validity of written petitions from within 100 days from the date of filing to within 100 business days from the date of filing of a written petition in the office of the Secretary of State, with an exception for petitions filed within 30 calendar days before or after a general election?“
Question 5 — the first of the state constitutional amendments included on this November’s ballot — asks Mainers if they are interested in changing the judicial review period for written petitions from one-hundred days to one-hundred business days.
Should a petition be filed within thirty calendar days either before or after a general election, the one-hundred business day countdown would begin thirty calendar days after the election is held.
The motivation behind the proposal was to reduce unreasonable workload expectations for the Secretary of State’s office.
Petitioners will still be allowed to submit petitions at any point, so this change is unlikely to have a substantial impact on citizens’ ability to petition the state government.
Question 6 — “Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to require that all of the provisions of the Constitution be included in the official printed copies of the Constitution prepared by the Secretary of State?“
Question 6 asks voters if they would like to require all state constitutional provisions to be included in official printed copies of the document prepared by the Secretary of State’s office.
When Article X, Section 7 of the state constitution was approved in the late 1800s, Section 1, Section 2, and Section 5 of Article X were removed from subsequent copies.
Section 1 pertains to the time and date of the first meeting of the Legislature, as well as the number of representatives.
Section 2 outlines the terms held by the first office holders.
Section 5 concerns Maine’s separation from Massachusetts, as well as state’s Indian treaty obligations.
The debate surrounding the removal of these provisions essentially comes down to the intentions behind the removal of this provision — whether it was to administratively clean up the document or to obscure the state’s responsibilities toward the Wabanaki Nations.
The treaty obligations outlined in the omitted Section 5 no longer governs relations between Maine and the Wabanaki Nations. Rather, the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement of 1980 defines the terms of the relationship between the two.
Question 7 — “Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to remove a provision requiring a circulator of a citizen’s initiative or people’s veto petition to be a resident of Maine and a registered voter in Maine, requirements that have been ruled unconstitutional in federal court?“
Question 7 asks voters to decide whether or not they would like to allow individuals who are not Maine residents or registered Maine voters to circulate a citizens’ initiative or people’s veto petition.
This proposed amendment comes after the 2022 First Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the case of We the People PAC et al. v. Bellows wherein it was decided that the residency and voter registration requirement violated the First Amendment.
Consequently, it has been argued by supporters of Question 7 that Maine’s constitution must be updated in accordance with the court’s decision.
Question 8 — “Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to remove a provision prohibiting a person under guardianship for reasons of mental illness from voting for Governor, Senators and Representatives, which the United States District Court for the District of Maine found violates the United States Constitution and federal law?“
For Question 8, Mainers are asked whether or not they want to amend the state constitution allow individuals under guardianship for mental guardianship as a result of mental illness should be allowed to vote in state elections.
Similarly to Question 7, this proposed amendment comes in response to a court decision, although for Question 8, a much more significant amount of time has passed since the courts issued their ruling.
In 2001, a District Court judge from Maine ruled in the case of Doe v. Rowe that the state’s restrictions against those under legal guardianship violated both the due process clause and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Maine voters have faced similar questions at the ballot box in the past — first in 1997 and again in 2000. The measure was struck down in 1997 after only 41.87% of voters approved of the change and again in 2000 with only 39.75% support from Mainers.
Although lawmakers have removed the restrictions against those under legal guardianship for mental illness from the state’s election code, the constitution has to date remained unchanged.