Maine’s high court turns down bid to split CMP corridor referendum into separate questions
By Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News Staff
AUGUSTA — A referendum aiming to take down the Central Maine Power corridor will appear as one question on Maine ballots this fall after the state’s high court rejected an attempt to split it into three separate questions.
Opponents of the CMP corridor project, which aims to connect hydropower from Quebec with New England’s electric grid via a transmission line in western Maine, gathered enough signatures earlier this year for a citizens referendum that would ban such construction in the region and require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature for similar projects on public lands.
State Rep. Chris Caiazzo, D-Scarborough, a corridor proponent, challenged Secretary of State Shenna Bellows’ decision to draft a single question for a challenge to the CMP corridor project that will be on the ballot this November. He argued the initiative contained three separate issues that should be split into three questions.
The question, as developed by Bellows’ office, reads: “Do you want to ban the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region and to require the Legislature to vote on other such projects in Maine retroactive to 2014, with a two-thirds vote required if a project uses public lands?”
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court concluded Bellows was correct in drafting only one question, saying there is no specific language in state law requiring her to draft multiple questions if the ballot initiative addresses multiple issues.
“Requiring the Secretary of State to separate provisions of an initiative into multiple questions could infringe on the electors’ right of direct initiative because splintering a single bill that was proposed to be presented for a yes-or-no vote into multiple pieces of legislation might be inconsistent with the intent of those who drafted or signed the petition,” Justice Thomas Humphrey wrote.
The referendum, set for November, is the second aiming to challenge the CMP corridor project. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled last year that the first planned ballot question was unconstitutional, saying the voters could not overturn a utility regulator’s past decision.The political fight over the corridor has attracted tens of millions of dollars in spending from utility companies, as CMP and Hydro Quebec, the Canadian energy company behind the project, have aimed to boost its popularity, while other energy companies that could lose market share if the project is completed try to defeat it.