Opinion

It’s time to fix Maine’s citizen initiative law

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Knowing Maine Senate Republicans had a U.S. District Court date May 23 concerning Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), I had grand hopes the Senate GOP would ask for a court decision on the constitutionality of RCV, and the federal court would decide in time for this week’s column.

Alas, the Senate GOP is questioning the U.S. District Court if the state can mandate RCV for a political party primary election. We won’t have a court decision for about a week.

Complicating the RCV June 12 primary election, the Bangor Daily News reminds us voters “will also vote…on a people’s veto attempt [to] nix a law passed by the Legislature last year that could delay [RCV] until 2021.…”

Since my previous RCV column I’ve watched two popular RCV tutorial videos on Facebook. One video is from our Secretary of State. The other video is on Representative Jeff Timberlake’s Facebook page. Rep. Timberlake’s House District 75 is the only district with RCV for the June 12 primary vote, unless the pending Maine Senate GOP U.S. District Court decision changes things.

Like an ocean riptide, it’s deceptively easy to get sucked in and carried away by the endless “what if?” RCV arguments. For example, a friend recently found himself interviewed on the street by WCSH-TV’s Don Carrigan. “What do you think of Ranked Choice Voting?” Mr. Carrigan asked.

“I told him what I thought, but they didn’t use what I said in the news report,” my friend chuckled at the retelling.

What does it matter what my friend “thinks” about Ranked Choice Voting? The only opinion that matters is the court’s opinion on whether or not this voters shell game is constitutional.

Ranked Choice Voting means some votes count more than once, some don’t. It means voters are pressured into casting votes for candidates for whom they otherwise would never cast votes. And RCV means candidates receiving the most votes on Election Day might end up losing anyway.

Maine voters should not have to grapple with this nonsense, this beta version of voting. The Maine Legislature can simply, wisely, amend the state’s citizen initiative law.

As Mary Adams — the staunchest citizen initiative advocate I know — reminded us in my previous RCV column, “It’s common sense. First find out if it’s constitutional. If it isn’t, then don’t put it on the ballot.”

The Legislature, “should now add the proviso that the court has to look at it and has to rule whether or not it’s contrary to the Maine Constitution,” said Mary Adams.

In the same way, a citizen initiative to raise taxes on income above $127,200 annually on both employees and employers is waiting to be either approved by the Maine Legislature or put out for a vote in the November 2018 general election. But the Maine Constitution, Article IV, Section 9 reads, “all bills for raising a revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives….”

Again, why was this new 3.8 percent payroll tax not sent first to the court to determine its constitutionality?

Bottom line: we need to insist our legislators do the right thing here. Our legislators are, after all, the citizens’ first line of defense against harmful laws. Stop with the we-don’t-want-to-risk-being-criticized half-measures. Enough is enough. As Mary Adams said, amending the law, shuffling the order of government actions taken on citizen initiative questions “is common sense.”

When in doubt about the legality of a citizen initiative question: Let the courts decide first.

Secretary of State RCV Video https://youtu.be/xcGGH7E_vNk

Representative Timberlake RCV Video https://www.facebook.com/jeff.timberlake.98/videos/1649875288393962/

BDN report on RCV http://bangordailynews.com/2018/05/23/politics/maine-republicans-make-their-legal-case-against-ranked-choice-voting/

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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