The 2023 election involved a number of key elections, including the eight ballot referendum questions voted on by Mainers. Elsewhere across the country, ballot questions legalizing recreational marijuana and codifying the right to an abortion were held in Ohio, while gubernatorial elections were held in Mississippi and Kentucky. In the latter state, Governor Andy Beshear, a Democrat, won despite Kentucky’s heavy Republican lean.
These successes have implications for the fast approaching 2024 elections. Richard Powell of the Cohen Institute for Leadership and Public Service said, “Nationally, the signs are that Democrats and left-leaning issues continue to do well at the ballot box despite President Biden’s sagging poll numbers.”
Here in Maine, five of the ballot referendums passed and three failed.
Question 1: Passed
Question 1 dealt with the state’s ability to take on considerable amounts of debt to pay for its state-owned utility. As Question 3 failed, this question is not currently operative.
Question 2: Passed
Foreign governments or entities with at least 5% foreign government ownership or control will be prohibited from spending money to influence ballot measures or candidate elections.
Despite this passing, it is entirely possible that it will face challenges in the courts, as many critics have called it a violation of free speech. Gov. Mills has vetoed legislation that would have prohibited foreign spending on the grounds that they were unconstitutional.
Question 3: Failed
Question 3, which asked voters if they wished to create a consumer-owned utility known as Pine Tree Power, failed, meaning that the status quo of Central Maine Power and Versant (which provide power for 97% of the state) will continue.
Question 4: Passed
A requirement will be created for vehicle manufacturers to standardize on-board diagnostic systems, and make access to these systems available to vehicle owners and independent repair shops.
As with Question 2, this ballot measure may be challenged in the courts, as happened in 2020 after Massachusetts passed a similar measure.
Question 5: Passed
A constitutional amendment has passed which will change the period of judicial review for ballot initiative petitions. The review period will now be 100 business days as opposed to 100 calendar days, and the review period will not begin until 30 days after the general election if a petition is submitted within 30 days of an election. It is hoped that this will reduce the burden on election workers and cut down on overtime costs.
Question 6: Passed
Sections of the Maine Constitution that have previously been hidden from printed versions of the Constitution will be included. The sections that were hidden pertain to Wabanaki Tribe treaty obligations. This will not change Maine’s obligations to the tribes and will only ensure older obligations remain in printed versions of the constitution.
Question 7: Failed
A constitutional provision that requires people who circulate ballot petitions to be Maine residents and registered voters will not be removed from the constitution. The Maine Constitution will keep the provision despite being found unconstitutional by a federal court in 2022.
Question 8: Failed
Once again, an attempt to remove a constitutional provision that prevents Mainers under guardianship for mental illness from governor, senators and representatives has failed. This question has been posed to Mainers twice before, in 1997 and 2000, failing on both occasions. In 2001, the provision was found unconstitutional by the courts and has not been enforced since.