The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has ordered the state to reword a referendum question on November’s ballot that will ask voters whether they want to create a consumer-owned electric power utility.

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows’ original wording for the citizens’ initiative, “An Act To Create the Pine Tree Power Company, a Nonprofit, Customer-owned Utility,” does not follow statutory requirements for ballot questions that are “understandable to a reasonable voter reading the question for the first time,” the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled.

The original referendum question would have asked voters: “Do you want to create a new quasi-governmental power company governed by an elected board to acquire and operate existing for-profit electricity transmission and distribution facilities in Maine?”

Our Power, a group supporting the proposal to replace Versant Power and Central Maine Power, Maine’s two investor-owned utilities, collected enough signatures last fall to get the initiative on the ballot. Members of Our Power filed a petition in early February asking the Superior Court to review Bellows’ wording, which was issued in late December.

“Who knows what ‘quasi-governmental’ means, anyway?” Our Power member John Clark said in March.

The group was concerned that the term wouldn’t accurately depict the actual utility, which would be run by consumers, including a board containing some elected members.


A Superior Court judge in Cumberland County then ordered Bellows’ office to reword the question a month ago. Judge MaryGay Kennedy said that using “quasi-governmental” to describe the proposed utility’s governance could be confusing or misleading for reasonable voters.

Bellows appealed that decision, arguing that “consumer-owned,” the phrasing preferred by the members of Our Power, could “misguide voters” into believing consumers would own a part of the company. Rather, Bellows said, “quasi-governmental” accurately describes the makeup of a public utility’s board of directors and classification as a “general government entity.”

But in the final ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court sided with Our Power members and Kennedy ruled that the term “quasi-governmental” and the overall referendum question must be rewritten so it is clear and concise to a reasonable voter.

“Even though some features of the new entity would be governmental in nature, the use of the term ‘quasi-governmental’ in the ballot question does not meet this standard,” Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Andrew M. Horton wrote on behalf of the majority opinion.

However, like Kennedy, the Supreme Judicial Court did not offer suggestions on how to fix the wording of the ballot question in line with its analysis on the issue.

Attempts to reach Our Power with questions about the ruling were not immediately successful.

A spokesperson for Bellows said the secretary of state’s office is reviewing the ruling. “We will respect the court’s decision and act as efficiently as possible,” Emily Cook said.

After Bellows brings forward a revised version of the ballot question, it will head to the Maine Legislature, where lawmakers will decide whether to adopt the measure or reject it. A rejection would send the initiative to the November ballot where voters would have the final say.

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