Voters turn down constitution change

Posted Nov. 03, 2009, at 10 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A constitutional amendment that encountered no resistance in the Legislature ran into a wall of no votes Tuesday at the polls, according to unofficial results compiled by the Bangor Daily News.

With 87 percent of precincts reporting, 52.2 percent of voters, numbering about 252,332 had voted against the measure as of 1 a.m. On the other side, about 47.8 percent of voters, totaling 230,890 people, supported the measure.

Bangor City Clerk Patti Dubois said the results tell her that there were no strong, polarizing feelings either way.

“People weren’t necessarily in tune with it,” said Dubois at about 11:30 p.m. after the constitutional amendment had trailed by 3 to 4 percentage points all night. “It’s five extra days clerks were looking for, just to have that additional time.”

Question 7 is seen by many election officials as a minor adjustment that will make a major difference for town clerks. Those clerks are responsible for certifying signatures on petitions gathered in the name of a people’s veto, which nullifies a law passed by the Legislature, or a citizen’s initiative, which proposes a new law. The certification process requires looking up each name to verify the signer is a registered voter and comparing the signatures.

Rep. Meredith Strang Burgess, R-Cumberland, who sponsored the bill that led to Question 7, said she was disappointed in early results showing the question losing.

”I’m hoping by the time the evening is over we’ll pass,” she said. “This just came at a time when there’s way too much else at stake. It’s a classic example that you need to communicate your message to the people.”

Most of the time, clerks can accomplish the job without too much trouble, but the situation is different when there are multiple petitions circulating at once, as there have been in recent years. The constitutional amendment approved in Question 7 would ease the pressure by extending the time clerks have to complete the work after the deadline for submitting signatures.

There was virtually no opposition to the proposal as it breezed through the Legislature, but there was among voters, including Cathy Rice of Pittsfield, who doesn’t take a constitutional amendment lightly.

“I think we’re adjusting the constitution to solve our own problems,” she said.

Fellow Pittsfield resident Jim Higgs agreed.

“[Town clerks] should be able to get that job done in the time they already have,” he said. “Last year was the first time it’d been a big deal.”

Dubois said it’s always a big deal, especially when lots of signatures are turned in on top of a heavy workload.

“We basically have to drop everything we’re doing,” she said. “Sometimes it can be during an election or dog licensing season when we’re licensing 200 dogs a day. It’s sometimes very challenging to get it all accomplished.”

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