Maine voters sent a clear message last week in electing Democrat Janet Mills as governor while sending Democratic majorities to both houses of the Legislature.

These results put an end to six years of divided government, where major issues with broad public support were stuck in a partisan quagmire. People voted for Democrats expecting action on issues like health care, education funding and modernizing the rural economy.

The election results should also send another message. It’s time to see if the legislative process still works, which means taking a break from the high-stakes referendum campaigns that have been setting the state’s agenda.

Bringing disparate interests together in a representative democracy is still the best way for a government to work on complicated problems and the newly elected officials should be given a chance to succeed before we face another round of ballot questions.

Since 2016, Maine voters have used direct democracy to legalize marijuana, lock in annual minimum wage increases, reform the electoral process with ranked-choice voting, expand Medicaid eligibility and dramatically hike school funding.

At the same time voters, rejected mandatory background checks for gun transfers, the licensing of a new casino and the creation of a universal home care benefit for seniors and people with disabilities.

While we agreed with almost all of those outcomes, virtually none of them were simple “yes” or “no” questions and all of them would have been better handled with a collaborative process instead of a coin-flip.

Ballot questions are by definition one-sided, and don’t get improved by negotiation and compromise.

Even the questions that won the voters’ approval could not go into effect as written because legislative changes were needed to prevent unintended consequences. Supporters of the issues that were defeated might have been happier with the results of functioning legislative process, where they could have at least made incremental progress toward their goals.

Medicaid expansion illustrates what the referendum process can’t do. After failing to overcome five of Gov. Paul LePage’s vetoes, advocates went straight to the voters in 2017, getting nearly 60 percent of the vote. But since LePage was still in office, his foot dragging has meant that not one person has yet benefited from the new law. It will likely take Mills’ inauguration to carry out what the voters wanted. Passing a question at the polls is no substitute for electing the people who will advance the policy.

Maine is experiencing a historic increase in the use of the referendum process, which has been available since the passage of a constitutional amendment at the start of the last century. In the first 60 years that citizens were able to introduce their own laws, it was used only six times, with no referendums during the decades of the 1950s and 1960s. But in just the last two years, the process has been used seven times for some of the most complex policy questions a legislature could ever be asked to address.

A number of people have called for reforming the referendum process, making it harder for questions to get before the voters. It’s feared that well-funded national organizations see Maine as a “cheap date” and will finance referendum campaigns to establish a beachhead for ideas they want to expand elsewhere.

There have been proposals calling on Maine to require that proponents gather more signatures, or gather them in each of the state’s counties, or in both congressional districts. We agree that the referendum process has been overused, but we don’t see how any of these ideas would slow down monied interests from getting their questions on the Maine ballot without doing even more harm to citizen groups that legitimately want to put an issue before the voters.

A much better response would be to rebuild trust in the legislative process so that referendums go back to being only used in extraordinary cases.

Advocates will have to learn again how to accept partial victories, even when they are in the majority. Opponents will have to remember how to mitigate losses when they are in the minority, instead of using every available tactic to eke out wins on technicalities.

It won’t be easy and it might not even be possible to bring back deliberative policymaking in a highly polarized world. But it’s worth a try.

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