Democracy Under Attack: Maine Politicians Go After Entire Citizens’ Initiative Process

Maine legislators first delayed and set a popular ballot initiative -- ranked choice voting -- up for repeal because they didn't like what voters wanted. Now, new measures from the secretary of state threaten the citizens' initiative process itself.

 Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee (VLA) will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, January 3, to consider LD 1726, an Act to Amend the Laws Governing Elections. On the surface, the bill appears to be pretty innocuous, until one takes a closer look at it.

Section 13 reads:

"During the time the polls are open on election day, the activities in subsections 1 to 4 and 6 are prohibited within a designated zone that includes the building where the registrar's office is located when it is open, the voting place, public property within 50 feet of each entrance to the voting place and a 50-foot-wide pathway from the location of voter parking or drop-off areas to each entrance into the voting place. For purposes of this section, "public property" does not include a public right-of-way across privately owned property if it is an easement right-of-way."

Subsection 6 includes "activities not related to the election," which among other things means collecting signatures "for a candidate or a direct initiative of legislation or referendum."

For grassroots campaigns, this is a serious issue, because signature gathers traditionally have the most success in gathering signatures on election day -- when people's minds are on politics and policy.

"Our constitutional right to direct democracy is completely under attack in Maine," states the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting

"This year, our Legislature has overthrown the results of a free and fair election by blocking all four of the November 2016 citizen-approved referenda.  And now with this latest bill, they are trying to stop the people from exercising our right to petition our government by blocking our access to the polls." - Committee on Ranked Choice Voting

Ranked choice voting, in particular, is important to note in this story.

Maine lawmakers voted in October to delay implementation of (and potentially repeal) ranked choice voting, which was approved by a majority of voters in 2016, but largely rejected by partisan state officials -- including Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who proposed the measures in this new elections bill.

"The State of Maine is on the cusp of a transformational change in election law but our legislature is doing everything in its power to stop the people from getting the change we voted for. And we are fighting back," states the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting.

The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, the campaign behind ranked choice voting's success in Maine, launched a people's veto initiative to overturn the legislature's actions, and was incredibly successful in its signature gathering efforts on election day in November.

"Fortunately, Maine’s Constitution allows its citizens to veto actions of the state legislature that it disagrees with," the committee explains.

"Knowing this, we filed a People’s Veto referendum that was approved by the secretary of state at 4:30pm on November 6, 2017. The following day, our volunteers across the state collected more than 35,000 of the required 61,123 signatures required by the Constitution."

The committee was able to do this because they mobilized hundreds of volunteers across the state to collect signatures at some of the locations the new bill would bar signature gathering at on election day.

It is suspicious that new measures to restrict signature gathering for ballot initiatives come as the people fight to take back control of their government and its elections from partisan officials. It appears to be yet another assault on democracy in Maine.

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