How an election timing quirk could complicate Maine’s latest people’s veto efforts

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Voters, voting, vote, election, elect in Gorham. Polls, poll, file photo.
A trio of efforts to repeal three landmark laws passed this year by the Democratic-led Maine Legislature may have an uphill battle even if they make the ballot.
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AUGUSTA, Maine — A trio of efforts to repeal three landmark laws passed this year by the Democratic-led Maine Legislature may have an uphill battle even if they make the ballot, because they’re slated to run concurrently with a new 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

Those people’s veto drives are looking to appeal largely to conservative voters to repeal laws that allow doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients, allow abortions to be funded with state money in the Medicaid program and roll back nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine requirements.

To get on the ballot, opponents of each law must complete the difficult task of submitting more than 63,000 signatures from registered voters to Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office by Sept. 18. But if they succeed, the date of a statewide vote isn’t final yet.

However, the Maine Constitution says valid people’s veto efforts go to the next statewide election. A November statewide election is scheduled to vote on a constitutional amendment, but the people’s veto efforts would have to produce signatures by early next month for Dunlap’s office to get their questions on the ballot and collection has barely started.

That next election could come because of yet another 2019 change from legislative Democrats — a switch from a party-run presidential caucus to a state-run March primary — in time for what is now a 25-way race for the Democratic nomination to face President Donald Trump.

The Republican president isn’t expected to face a serious threat for the nomination. Maine Democrats have indicated an interest in using the optional primary. This could put people’s veto proponents in the odd, unenviable position of running a general election campaign in an environment dominated by Democratic voters.

Carroll Conley, the executive director of the evangelical Christian Civic League of Maine, which is running the efforts to repeal the so-called “death with dignity” and abortion laws, conceded that the June 2019 state primary would “absolutely” be better for his side than in March.

However, he said they would continue trying to get them on the ballot if that is the only option and that people in his community are “most engaged I’ve seen citizens over a couple issues” around the two bills signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat.

“It will come down to whether we’re able to engage our base, regardless of whatever else is going on,” Conley said.

The timing of the election has caused some confusion. Conley said his group was working Tuesday to get updated information on the potential election’s timing. If nothing changes, any valid people’s veto effort will go to the ballot in March, said Kristen Muszynski, a Dunlap spokeswoman.

However, there is another dim caveat: That primary wouldn’t happen in 2020 if another attempt to subject the bill creating the primaries to a people’s veto got on the ballot then. That is one of 12 other people’s veto efforts against Democratic measures being tried by activist Jack McCarthy of Woodland.

His fringe conservative positions gained him notoriety after a 2013 meeting with former Gov. Paul LePage and his efforts look less organized than the other three people’s veto attempts, which are backed by coalitions that have set up established political action committees.

But McCarthy said Tuesday that 300 or more people have agreed to collect signatures for his drives, seeing lots of momentum against the Democratic-backed measures. Still, McCarthy said he couldn’t handicap the chances of the primary bill getting to the ballot, calling it “a crapshoot.”


Correction: A November statewide election is scheduled for a vote on a constitutional amendment. An earlier version of this story was incorrect.

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