Maine voters were poised to approve a series of citizen-led initiatives Tuesday that would make major social and economic changes, all of which failed to gain traction through the legislative process.

But the margins on three of the five referendums were still far too close to call as of 11 p.m.

With roughly 35 percent of all precincts reporting, four out of five referendum questions were on pace to pass, as was Question 6, which would authorize a $100 million transportation bond.

Question 4, which would adopt a staggered minimum wage increase, and Question 5, which would create the country’s first ranked-choice voting system, respectively, were ahead by somewhat comfortable margins.

Questions 1, which would legalize recreation marijuana, and Question 2, which would levy a 3 percent income tax on wealthy Mainers to help pay for education, had only slight leads.

Question 3, which would expand background checks on firearms purchases and transfers, was losing by a 49-51 margin.


Mainers have had mixed feelings about citizen initiatives in recent years. A 2012 vote that legalized same-sex marriage came just three years after voters repealed a law allowing same-sex marriage. Voters have rejected two separate bear-baiting initiatives and two so-called taxpayer bills of rights meant to slow the growth of government and taxation. Initiatives to bring casinos to Maine have passed in some years and failed in others.

The number of questions and the collective impact of those questions this year is without precedent.

Yes votes on Questions 1-5 would send a clear message to the Legislature, which debated each issue in recent years – in some cases, more than once – and to Gov. Paul LePage, who opposed all five ballot proposals and encouraged voters to do likewise. LePage felt strongest about the tax increase on high-income earners and on the minimum wage increase, even threatening to “move south” if both passed.

With the vote on Question 1, Maine could become the fifth state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, and the first in the eastern half of the country. That number could grow, however, with similar questions on Tuesday’s ballot in four other states.

On the minimum wage, Maine would become the latest state to authorize a gradual increase. Several states and cities, including Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland just last year, have approved increases in recent years by referendum.

On background checks for private gun sales, Maine is seeking to join 18 other states that have approved restrictions for firearm purchases that go beyond federal law.


If the margin on Question 5 holds, Maine would stand alone on creating a ranked-choice system for all elections, which will allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference. In successive vote tallies, candidates are gradually weeded out until one receives at least 50 percent support plus one. Some, including LePage, have called ranked choice voting unconstitutional.

The number of citizen initiatives on the 2016 ballot, each of which required supporters to gather more than 65,000 signatures, could prompt lawmakers to consider making it harder to get a question on the ballot.

Lawmakers also could try to make changes to some of the newly passed laws in their upcoming session.

Opponents of Question 3 on gun sales already have pledged to introduce legislation to address problems they had with the referendum language. There could also be interest in clarifying the wording of Question 1 on marijuana, in light of concerns raised by Attorney General Janet Mills.

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