A bill that will make it more difficult for citizens to initiate new ballot questions advanced in the Legislature on Monday, but it’s losing support amid warnings from opponents that the proposal will dramatically change the state’s referendum process.

The bill, advanced by a 93-54 vote in the House of Representatives, would amend the Maine Constitution to require sponsors of ballot campaigns to obtain a percentage of voter signatures from each of Maine’s two congressional districts. Maine voters, who are the final arbiters in all changes to the Constitution, could vote on the change in November if the bill passes.

The House amended the bill Monday to ensure that the constitutional change wouldn’t go into effect until March 1, 2016. The amendment was added over concerns that the bill would change the rules for ballot campaigns already underway, including two efforts to legalize marijuana.

On Monday, several lawmakers argued that the bill was an overreaction to last year’s bear baiting referendum, a ballot question that has since inspired several changes to the referendum process.

Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, said lawmakers should “tread lightly” when considering changes to the Maine Constitution. He said lawmakers are charged with responding to the “emergencies of the day” through changes in law, not through “an intrusion into our state’s charter.”

Supporters of the bill countered that Mainers should only consider ballot initiatives that have demonstrated support statewide, not a specific region.


The bear baiting initiative, financed almost entirely by the Humane Society of the United States, was defeated by voters, 53 percent to 46 percent. Voters in rural districts strongly opposed the referendum, often by lopsided margins. However, southern Maine voters were more supportive of the bear hunting restrictions. In Portland, for example, voters favored the ban by 68 percent to 32 percent.

Data from the Secretary of State’s Office show that 75 percent of the more than 60,000 signatures collected for the 2014 bear referendum came from the more liberal 1st Congressional District. Of those collected in the 1st District, 46 percent came from Cumberland County.

The bear baiting referendum has led opponents to introduce changes to the ballot initiative process that could make it difficult to put the question on the ballot for a third time. One bill, signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage, prohibits using nonresidents to gather signatures in a ballot campaign.

Currently there are no requirements that signatures be obtained from specific geographic areas, and campaigns need only obtain a total number of signatures that equals at least 10 percent of the votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election. Based on the election in November, referendum campaigns would need 61,123 signatures to get on the ballot.

The bill, L.D. 742, would require the number of signatures obtained by campaigns to be at least 10 percent of the total gubernatorial votes in the 1st Congressional District – southern and coastal Maine – and 10 percent of the total gubernatorial votes in the 2nd Congressional District – western, northern and Down East Maine. That means future ballot initiatives would require approximately 29,000 signatures from 2nd District and 32,000 from the 1st District, based on the turnout from last year’s gubernatorial election.

The House gave initial approval to the bill last week, as did the Senate. Additional votes are required before the proposal is sent to LePage.


The initial votes taken last week suggest that the two-thirds margin needed for enactment was attainable. However, Monday’s House vote is less than the two-thirds margin that will eventually be needed to advance to the governor.

If the two-thirds threshold is reached and the governor signs the bill, it will then require approval by a simple majority of voters, who have the final say in amending the Maine Constitution.

Maine is among the 24 states that allow citizens to petition the government to enact new laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some states have tried to enact a geographical requirement to the signature-gathering process. In 2007, the Nevada Legislature passed such a requirement. The law was challenged in court by opponents who argued that it gave more influence to the voters in a congressional district where petitioners can’t obtain the 10 percent signature threshold.

However, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2012 that the law was legal.

Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, said the Maine proposal was modeled after the Nevada law.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: stevemistler

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