citizen initiatives

Legislative leaders have voted unanimously to allow a new bill this session that requires more disclosure of the financing of ballot initiatives. 

Rep. Louis Luchini, a Democrat from Ellsworth, is sponsoring the legislation. It requires more thorough and timely disclosure of the spending to get a ballot question approved.

“What is really important to me is to, I think, understand all of the financing issues," Luchini says. "That’s something we really saw last year during the casino campaign where lots of money was flowing in, we didn’t know where it was coming from. “

Tom Porter / Maine Public File

At first glance, a new bill from Maine’s secretary of state contains mostly a list of minor housekeeping changes to state election laws. But tucked inside is a big change that could make it much harder for groups pushing citizen initiatives onto the state ballot.

Lawmakers discuss business in the House Chamber as the Maine Legislature reconvenes Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, at the State House in Augusta, Maine.
AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File

Maine lawmakers are overhauling or set to repeal each of the four citizen-initiated laws that passed in November. Those actions have left some wondering if the voice of the voters is as sacrosanct as it once was.

The Legislature has taken the first step toward making it more difficult for citizen-initiated referendums to qualify for the ballot.

Currently, campaigns must collect signatures of at least 10 percent of the total vote from the most recent gubernatorial election. Right now, that’s a little more than 67,000 signatures.

If the bill that cleared the House on Thursday passes and is ratified by voters, ballot campaigns will need to collect signatures from no less than 10 percent of the gubernatorial vote from each congressional district.

In a rare move, a representative of Maine’s judicial branch appeared before a committee in Augusta today to speak against a proposal before state lawmakers.

The bill would grant the Maine Supreme Court the power to block citizen-initiated ballot questions before they even get to the voters. The judiciary believes that the bill, though designed to stop potentially unconstitutional initiatives from reaching the ballot, will result in a serious breach of the separation of powers.

Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

Historically, the dirty work of American democracy is done in the halls of Congress and state legislatures. But in more than half of U.S. states, activists who can’t get any traction for their policies in the state capitol have the option of turning directly to voters.

AUGUSTA, Maine - Maine lawmakers are moving closer to approving a measure that supporters say is designed to raise the bar for activists seeking to put referendum questions on the statewide ballot.