All Mainers should have a say in what issues make it on the statewide ballot
Lawmakers on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee Monday held a public hearing on LDs 255 and 374, two bills that would impose geographic distribution requirements on the signatures collected to advance a ballot initiative. The measures propose to amend the Maine Constitution to require that signatures collected for ballot initiatives be gathered from different areas of the state.
In the 128th Maine Legislature, a similar effort failed narrowly in the Maine Senate. Had it received the two-thirds majority support required as a constitutional amendment to be approved by lawmakers, it would have appeared on the statewide ballot in November 2018 along with the Universal Home Care initiative, or Question 1.
The Maine Constitution currently allows signatures to be gathered from anywhere in Maine, though one analysis suggests upwards of 74 percent of signatures gathered for ballot initiatives come from the First Congressional District. All that is required by the Constitution for an initiative to achieve ballot status is for organizers to collect a number of signatures equal to or greater than 10 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election.
LD 255 would require that signatures be collected from both of Maine’s congressional districts, and that the number of signatures collected from each congressional district be equal to or greater than 10 percent of the total votes cast for governor within that congressional district in the previous gubernatorial election. LD 374 would essentially do the same, but it replaces congressional districts with Maine’s 35 state Senate districts.
If passed, either bill would make certain that registered voters in rural Maine are not forgotten during the signature collection process. Article IV, Part Third, Section 18 of the state constitution currently enables entities that collect signatures for ballot initiative campaigns to spend their time and resources in southern Maine, the least demanding region in the state to collect signatures with a subs
While the interests of southern Maine voters are absolutely necessary in making statewide decisions, residents in northern and central Maine need to have a proportionate say in these matters as well. Initiatives should reflect the interests of the statewide population, not just voters in southern Maine.
Of the 24 states with a citizen’s initiative process, half of them employ geographic distribution requirements for signature collection to prevent major metropolitan areas from dictating what measures achieve ballot status.
For example, Nevada requires 112,544 signatures to be collected in total for an initiative to be put on a ballot. However, at least 28,136 need to be collected from each of Nevada’s four congressional districts, allowing for equal representation among the state’s diverse population. Similarly, LDs 255 and 374 would mandate that all of Maine is equally represented in terms of what goes on the statewide ballot.
More than 63,607 signatures would currently need to be collected and certified by the Secretary of State in order for an initiative to be put on the ballot. LDs 255 and 374 would ensure that initiatives on the ballot represent the interests of all Maine people, and does so without increasing the required signature threshold.
The only difference between these bills and current law is that petitioners would need to put more time and energy into making sure their proposals reflect the policy ambitions of residents in all areas of the state. That shouldn’t be too much to ask for in a state where citizens have notoriously different interests depending on location.