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Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to state that a citizens’ initiative or people’s veto petition must be submitted to local or state officials by the constitutional deadline in order to be certified and, in the case of a citizens’ initiative, must be filed with the Secretary of State within 18 months?
If this sounds like bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo, it is. However, it serves the important goal of clarifying the timetable for the citizen initiative process.
Many people aren’t aware that there is a Question 2 on the November ballot. If they are, they might not know why it’s there or what it means. That’s a failing of the Legislature, which considered and approved inclusion of the measure, and the Secretary of State’s Office, which has done little to promote the question’s existence.
Most people aren’t aware that there was confusion, even conflict, over when petition signatures must be turned in for a measure to be considered for the ballot. State statute had allowed petitioners three years to gather the required number of signatures – 10 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election. The Constitution, however, said signatures were only valid for a year. To end this confusion, lawmakers in 1998, shortened the signature gathering period to one year.
Earlier this year, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, allowed supporters of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights to submit signatures after the statutory deadline, but within the time the Constitution allows. A political activist sued and a superior court judge ruled that Mr. Dunlap had erred in allowing the “late” signatures.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court, however, ruled that the Secretary of State was right in accepting the signatures because the Constitution, which is open-ended about how long petitioners have to gather signatures, took precedence over state statute. TABOR will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot.
However, the justices noted that because of the Secretary of State’s deadline for drafting a petition question and the time town clerks needed to certify the signatures as valid, petitioners were given only 345 days, not a full year, to gather signatures.
Question 2 fixes this by amending the Constitution to clarify that the signature collection and verification process must be completed within 18 months. This gives petition organizers more time to launch a campaign and collect signatures and town clerks sufficient time to validate them.