Legislature putting Mainers back into the citizen initiative process

State House Augusta Maine 3_JPGFollowing the second bear referendum in 10 years, both initiated by a wealthy national organization, the Humane Society of the United States, sportsmen’s groups arrived at this year’s legislative session determined to bring more integrity to the citizen initiative process and to make sure ballot initiatives were really coming from Maine citizens. And so far, so good.

I joined the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s Dave Trahan and others in testifying in favor of LD 176, An Act to Amend the Law Governing the Gathering of Signatures for Direct Initiatives and People’s Veto Referenda. The bill was drafted by SAM and sponsored by Representative Stan Short.

While the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs didn’t embrace all the new requirements proposed in SAM’s bill, both Short and Trahan told me they are very pleased with the amended version of the bill that won the support of the committee.

Amended Bill

Here’s what the amended bill, awaiting votes in the House and Senate, would do.

  • Tightens the requirement that petition circulators be Maine residents and makes it clear that these Maine residents must handle all the steps in the process: “To solicit signatures means the circulator presents the petition to the voter, asks the voter to sign, and personally witnesses the voter affixing the voter’s signature to the petition.”
  • Requires that prior to beginning to gather signatures, the Secretary of State be provided with “a list containing the names of all individuals hired by the petition organization to assist in circulating petitions, or in organizing, supervising or managing the circulation. The portion of the registration form must be updated and resubmitted to the Secretary of State when the petitions are filed, pursuant to the Constitution of Maine, Article IV, Part Third, Section 17 or 18.”

This will prevent the HSUS practice of hiring out-of-state petition circulators who did most of the work while a Maine resident stood by someplace in the vicinity.

I guess the committee didn’t like one of my suggestions, which I still think would be an improvement in the process. I suggested that the explanation of the issue, written by Maine’s Secretary of State and printed on each petition, should be read to each person before that person signs the petition. I believe a lot of signers are misled about the issue by petition circulators. At the very least, the signers should be verifying that they have read the Secretary of State’s explanation when they sign the petition.

Up Next

Representative Short has another bill proposed by SAM that has not yet had a public hearing. That bill would require half of the petition signatures to come from each of Maine’s two Congressional Districts. That would make sure the issue has support in both southern and northern Maine.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.