The Nov. 5 election is taking place in what some people would call an off year, as there is no presidential election nor are there congressional contests on the ballot. But democracy does not take years off, and neither should voters.
There are local elections of consequence, such as the crowded 11-candidate Bangor City Council race, which will play a significant role in shaping our communities for the next few years. And while there are no elections for statewide office this year, there are two important referendum questions on the state ballot that should have voters’ attention.
Question 1 asks voters if they favor a $105 million bond “to build or improve roads, bridges, railroads, airports, transit and ports and make other transportation investments.” The question also states that this bond issue will be used to match an estimated $137 million in funding from the federal government and other sources.
This bond is a valuable investment in Maine’s roads, bridges, ports, air and other transportation infrastructure. A growing library of reports outline Maine’s failure to meet infrastructure needs with adequate funding. In August, Maine DOT Commissioner Bruce Van Note said that heading into the 2020 construction season with the bond would put his agency in “a world of hurt.”
This is the fifth year in a row that Maine voters are being asked to approve a transportation bond. That is not a sustainable or prudent way to repeatedly cover the costs of routine work such as road maintenance. Maine is overdue for a tough conversation about other funding sources, including an increase to the gas tax and making sure electric vehicles are also paying their fair share — and a legislative commision is starting to look at some of those options.
But for now, there is widespread agreement that this bond is needed this year. Voters should recognize that need as well.
We are disappointed that Republican resistance during an August special session of the Legislature prevented several other needed investments, including bond questions supporting broadband and Career and Technical Education, from coming before voters next week. But we hope some Republicans will remember part of their arguments from August — that these other bond proposals could be pushed to next year — and continue discussions about these investments when the Legislature returns in January.
In the meantime, Question 2 on the statewide ballot next week should also be an easy decision for voters. The question asks voters if they favor amending the Maine State Constitution “to allow persons with disabilities to sign petitions in an alternative manner as authorized by the Legislature.”
This is not a controversial proposal. Amending the Constitution is a significant step that requires careful deliberation, but in this case, it’s an easy call. Question 2 will correct long-standing, flawed language and allow the Maine Legislature to do what it intended to do more than a decade ago: provide a process for voters with disabilities who cannot sign their names to still be able to sign referendum petitions.
“This is an obvious problem for people who, for example, are quadriplegic, or have Parkinson’s, or have no hands at all,” Rep. Bruce White, a Democrat from Waterville who introduced the constitutional amendment, said in April. “This proposal would give the Legislature room to make allowance for alternatives to original signatures on citizen initiatives and people’s vetoes, such as proxies and self-inking stampers, for example, as are allowed for in other sections of the law.”
According to Maine’s Director of Elections Melissa Packard, the Legislature took steps to address electoral participation for voters with disabilities in 2005 with a law that allowed voters who cannot sign their names to use a signature stamp or authorize someone else to sign on their behalf. But that action was still limited by language in the constitution that references the “original signatures” of people signing written petitions.
“Although a statutory change was sufficient to allow a voter to authorize another person to sign a candidate petition or Clean Elections form, it was determined that a constitutional amendment would be needed to authorize a similar process for direct initiative and people’s veto petitions …” Packard said in her April testimony on behalf of the Maine Secretary of State’s office.
“These voters have been prevented from signing these petitions since the process was authorized in 1907,” Packard also said at the time. “This change is long overdue.”
We hope voters will see the need for the constitutional amendment proposed in Question 2, and the transportation bond proposed in Question 1. Both make sense for Maine.
It may be an “off-year election” to some, but there are still plenty of reasons to head to the polls next Tuesday.