Maine’s ballot question approval process: Fix it

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“It is a little bit of a dog whistle to call something a scam. But this truly is a scam,” said Stop The Scam campaign manager Ben Gilman. We were talking about Question 1, which voters will see on Maine’s November 2018 general election ballot.

Mr. Gilman, an old friend and colleague, was good enough to fill in my gaps about Question 1, and to point me online to places with more details. But Ben did not have an answer for what I think is the first consideration about Question 1:

Why is this on the ballot in the first place?

Maine’s Secretary of State is required to accept/reject ballot question proposals for following “form,” “essential aspects of…drafting conventions,” and other technical, grammatical considerations. But if a proposed ballot question is clearly or questionably illegal? The Secretary of State doesn’t have to consider that.

Instead the whole mess is dumped on Maine voters. We are asked to vote in November on:

QUESTION 1: An Act To Establish Universal Home Care for Seniors and Persons with Disabilities.

“Do you want to create the Universal Home Care Program to provide home-based assistance to people with disabilities and senior citizens, regardless of income, funded by a new 3.8% tax on individuals and families with Maine wage and adjusted gross income above the amount subject to Social Security taxes, which is $128,400 in 2018?”

This whole question is incredibly cynical, a self-serving political sleight of hand designed to get a majority of Maine voters to say “yes” to a new program that, as defined here, is against Maine and federal law. Surely the proponents of Question 1 know, if this question is approved by voters — then what should have been a simple procedure — determining up front if the proposed ballot question would be unconstitutional (illegal) — is now a public relations horror show.

I know pointing out the unconstitutionality of this question means little if anything to some voters. Perhaps most voters. I’m sure Question 1 proponents are counting on benefiting at the voting booth from voter apathy, ignorance, and selfishness.

Maine’s Constitution formalizes Maine’s highest law. When you hear someone proposing a new law, or changing existing law — the new/changed laws must square with our Constitution’s guidelines — or those laws cannot be enacted.

Well, as spelled out in Maine’s Constitution, all proposals for new taxes must start in Maine’s House of Representatives. Why? Because our state representatives are people we elect to be our eyes and ears in Augusta. They are our first line of defense against boneheaded ideas; our first line of offense for positive ideas.

If, as Ballot Question 1 would do, setting up a nine-member board outside of government, with authority to tax you and me $310 million each year, goes unchallenged — there’s nothing to prevent other sloganeers from side-stepping the people’s government representatives, and setting up their own nine-member boards to tax us $310 million more for their Grand Idea du Moment.

Four-and-a-half year old grandson Grafton was playing with a ceramic bear garden ornament. The bear slipped from Grafton’s small hands onto a rock and broke in two. Grafton picked up the two bear halves, held them up to me, and said, “Fix it.”

Maine Revised Statutes Title 21-A: Elections, Chapter 11: Ballot Questions can easily be amended to include a proviso directing Maine’s Secretary of State to determine the constitutionality of proposed ballot questions as part of the first approval process.

To Maine’s legislators, Governor, and Secretary of State, I say, “Fix it.”

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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