AUGUSTA – It’s a rare November election when at least one citizen-initiated question doesn’t appear on the Maine ballot. It looks like this year’s election will be one of them.
None of the four campaigns leading petition drives plans to meet Thursday’s deadline for filing voter signatures with state election officials.
By missing the deadline, none of the groups will be eligible to get their question on the November 2001 ballot. The questions deal with forest pesticides, school funding, property taxes and land access.
“With the exception of 1992 and 1998, at least one citizen initiated referendum has appeared on the ballot over the past 17 years,” Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky said Wednesday.
But Gwadosky, the chief election official for Maine, noted that the Legislature still could place bond issues, constitutional amendments or other questions on the ballot.
Maine voters this past November saw six questions – three of them citizen initiatives – on the ballot when they went to the polls. All six were rejected.
Gov. Angus King is among the critics who see a need for reforms in Maine’s initiative process. Bills have been submitted in the Legislature to make it harder to bring questions to statewide votes.
In his State of the State speech Tuesday night, King vowed to submit legislation “to return order to the citizen-initiative process and sanctity to our voting places by extending the existing regulations of polling place politicking to those collecting signatures just as they now apply to those collecting votes.”
Under rules now in effect, campaigns must turn in a minimum of 42,101 voters’ signatures – 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election – if they are to put questions on the ballot.
To get on the November 2001 ballot, the deadline to drop off signatures is 5 p.m. Thursday. Even if campaigns miss it, they still have several months to meet the qualifications for the 2002 ballot.
All of the campaigns plan to do just that, reasoning that turnout will be high in the November 2002 gubernatorial election.
Jonathan Carter, leader of an unsuccessful campaign last fall to impose new forest-cutting rules, is listed as a leader of a new proposal to impose a 10-year ban on chemical pesticides.
Carter said Wednesday that by holding off until 2002 when turnout will likely be higher, chances of his proposal winning will be better.
Other referendum proposals now on hold seek to:
. Set aside 5 percent of all state revenues for kindergarten-Grade 12 schools;
. Limit property taxes to 1 percent of local assessed value plus the town’s existing debt;
. Deny tree growth tax benefits to owners of 2,500 acres or more of forest land in the unorganized territories if they do not allow free public access to their lands.
Meanwhile, two other campaigns, which seek labeling of genetically engineered food and to clarify portions of Maine’s medical marijuana law, are awaiting the go-ahead to circulate petitions.