In case you haven’t noticed, there’s an election Tuesday.
It’s an off year in some ways. The ballots will be shorter with legislative, congressional and gubernatorial races still gaining steam for 2018. Still, there are major issues to decide, and the lower turnout an odd-year election generates makes the outcomes unpredictable and, in effect, elevates the impact of each ballot cast.
Oh, and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are at stake.
Maine has four referendum questions on its ballot, and there’s one special election to fill a vacancy in the Maine House of Representatives. Two of Maine’s largest cities — Auburn and Lewiston — will vote whether to merge, and other municipalities will be electing leaders or voting on local initiatives.
The BDN has you covered whether you’re a seasoned voter or going to the polls for the first time. Take a look at the BDN 2017 election primer, click on the links and report to your polling place more informed.
My polling place? Wait, where’s that?
It’s nearby. To find your polling location, visit Maine.gov and enter your address. That link also will show you any local questions appearing on your ballot. Click on “Sample Ballot” after entering your address. All voting in Maine closes at 8 p.m. Nov. 7.
You have to be registered to vote, but that’s easy. You can register before and throughout Election Day at your local town office or city hall. You’ll need valid identification, such as a driver’s license or passport, and proof of your address, such as a current utility bill, bank statement or paycheck stub. You’ll be asked to fill out a quick Maine Voter Registration Application. If you’re already registered in the municipality where you’re voting, no identification documents are required to vote. Call your municipal officials — and find their phone numbers by clicking here — with questions about logistics or local candidates.
What’s on the ballot?
Four referendums appear on the state ballot. There are two citizen-initiated bills, a transportation bond and a proposed change to the Maine Constitution. Here are the questions as well as links to some recent BDN coverage. The Maine Citizen’s Guide to the Referendum Election has oodles of information if you want more.
QUESTION 1: York County casino. “Do you want to allow a certain company to operate table games and/or slot machines in York County, subject to state and local approval, with part of the profits going to the specific programs described in the initiative?”
The entire state has to vote on this bill, which authorizes the Maine Gambling Control Board to accept and potentially approve an application to operate a casino somewhere in York County. The location is not identified in the proposal. There are parameters a successful applicant must meet, but basically it’s limited to Capital Seven LLC, a Nevada company owned by Shawn Scott. Scott led the push for a successful 2003 referendum that allowed slot machines in Bangor.
The bill would direct 40 percent of the casino’s net slots income and 16 percent of table game income to a number of entities. The biggest recipients would be harness racing interests and the Maine Department of Education.
The casino referendum is the result of a more than year-long, $4 million signature-gathering effort that tallied more than 87,000 registered voters — some 26,000 more than the minimum threshold. The signature-gathering effort was and still is the subject of significant controversy, ranging from issues with the signature-verifying process that had to be settled in court to a Maine Ethics Commission investigation into who financed the campaign. On Friday, the commission l evied a record $500,000 in fines for campaign finance reporting violations to four groups associated with the casino initiative.
QUESTION 2: Medicaid expansion. “Do you want Maine to expand Medicaid to provide healthcare coverage for qualified adults under age 65 with incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty level, which in 2017 means $16,643 for a single person and $22,412 for a family of two?”
This is not a new issue for Maine. After being blocked numerous times in the Legislature, proponents of Medicaid expansion launched a citizen-initiated petition drive in 2016, gathering most of the 61,123 necessary signatures on Election Day. The referendum would direct the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to open Medicaid eligibility to people or families whose income is less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level — $16,643 for an individual and $39,716 for a family of five, for example — including adults within those income parameters who are not disabled and don’t have children.
The Legislature’s fiscal office estimates expansion will cost the state $54.5 million a year, leveraging approximately $525 million in federal funds, and will newly cover 70,000 Mainers. Opponents say expansion will cost more because estimates of how many people would qualify are too low and federal funding is not guaranteed.
QUESTION 3: Transportation bond. “Do you favor a $105,000,000 bond issue for construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of highways and bridges and for facilities or equipment related to ports, harbors, marine transportation, freight and passenger railroads, aviation, transit and bicycle and pedestrian trails, to be used to match an estimated $137,000,000 in federal and other funds, and for the upgrade of municipal culverts at stream crossings?”
This money would fund the Maine Department of Transportation’s maintenance of transportation infrastructure. It would allocate $80 million for secondary roads and bridges, including partnerships with towns and cities on local roads. That money would leverage an estimated $88 million in federal and local matching funds.
Another $20 million, which would be matched by $49 million in other funds, would benefit ports, harbors, marine transportation, aviation, railroad and bicycle and pedestrian trails. The final $5 million would fund a grant program to improve municipal culverts, stream crossings and wildlife habitats.
The bond would cost nearly $29 million in interest over the 10-year payback period.
QUESTION 4: Constitutional amendment. “Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to reduce volatility in state pension funding requirements caused by the financial markets by increasing the length of time over which experience losses are amortized from 10 years to 20 years, in line with pension industry standards?”
It’s about stabilizing the state’s payments to the public employees retirement system. It’s complicated, but strict measures put in place when the retirement system was nearing insolvency in the early 1990s mean the state and system must compensate for dips in the investment markets within 10 years. That’s more expensive than it used to be because the size of the pension system’s investment pool is $10 billion now, compared with $3 billion then. The change would provide a 20-year amortization period, doubling the time the state has to catch up after market losses. This change requires a voter-approved amendment to the Maine Constitution.
There is one legislative election. If you live in Lisbon, you’ll be voting to fill the House District 56 seat, which has been vacant since the death of Rep. Gina Mason, R-Lisbon, in September. The candidates on the ballot are Richard Mason, who is Gina Mason’s husband, and Democrat Scott Gaiason.