Laws governing the initiative process in Maine (archive)

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The laws governing the initiative and referendum process in Maine are found in Article IV, Part Third, Sections 18, 19, 20, and 22 of the Maine Constitution and Title 21-A, Chapter 11 of the Maine Revised Statutes Annotated.

In Maine, citizens have access to the statewide ballot through two mechanisms:

Maine citizens can also vote on statewide ballot measures that are legislatively-referred to the ballot by the Maine State Legislature.

Maine is one of just four states (the others being Ohio, Washington, and Colorado) that allow statewide ballot initiative elections in both odd- and even-numbered years.

Steps to begin the process

Any Maine registered voter may propose a citizen initiative or a people's veto referendum.

Notarized application

  • The voter must first submit a one-page notarized form entitled "Application for Citizen Initiative" or "Application for People's Veto Referendum" to the Maine Secretary of State. The completed application must contain the names, addresses and signatures of 5 Maine registered voters, in addition to the applicant, who are designated to receive any notices related to the processing of the application.[1][2]
  • The voter submitting the application must sign it in the presence of the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State's designee, or a notary public.
  • The application must contain the full text of the proposed law or, in the case of a veto referendum, either the full text of or a reference to the public law to be vetoed.

Response in 10 days

Within 10 business days after receiving an application, the Secretary of State must review the application and either reject it, or accept it, and provide a revised draft of the initiative legislation to the applicant.


If the applicant revises the legislation, the applicant must submit each subsequent draft of the legislation to the Secretary of State for review. Again, the Secretary of State must review each subsequent draft within 10 days of receipt, and provide a revised draft or written response suggesting how the proposed law may be modified to conform to the requirements of Title 21-A, Section 901, and the drafting conventions of the Maine Revised Statutes Annotated.


The applicant must provide the Secretary of State with written consent to the final language of the proposed law. After receiving written consent from the applicant, the Secretary of State must provide the ballot question to the applicant within 10 business days. After the Secretary of State has provided the ballot question to the applicant, the Elections Division will provide an approved petition form to be circulated by the petitioners. The proponents must print or duplicate additional petition forms as needed, in the exact format provided by the Secretary of State. The approved petition form must include the following specifications:

  • A. Printed on paper no larger than 11 x 17 inches;
  • B. Text of the legislation
  • C. Ballot question and title (conspicuously placed on the face of the petition)
  • D. Instructions for petitioners
  • E. Common reasons signatures are rejected
  • F. Circulator's Verification
  • G. Certification of the Registrar

The date the approved form of the petition is provided to the applicant is the date of issuance. The petition may be circulated for 18 months from the date of issuance.

Petitions may be circulated by any Maine registered voter.

Application deadlines

Ballot measures
in Maine
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Constitutional amendments
Citizen initiatives
Statutes referred by Legislature
Veto referenda

For initiatives

The "Application for Citizen Initiative" may be filed at any time, but the petition circulation period ends eighteen months from the time that the Secretary of State gives final approval to collect the signatures. Based on this, petition sponsors normally don't submit their language/application to the Secretary of State's office until they have made preparations for signature collection.

Note also that signatures are not valid if they are dated more than one year prior to the date that the petition was filed in the office of the Secretary of State.

For referenda

An application for a people's veto referendum petition must be filed with the Secretary of State within 10 business days after adjournment of the legislative session at which the Act in question was passed.

Signature requirements

See Maine signature requirements

The required number of valid signatures for both statewide initiatives and referendums are the same. It is tied to the number of votes cast for the office of the Governor of Maine in the most recent gubernatorial election. Gubernatorial elections are held in Maine every four years. The requirement is 10% of the total votes cast for governor (excluding blanks) in the most recent election (2010) as established in Article 4, Part Third, Section 18, sub-section 2 of the Maine Constitution.[3][4]

Year Initiated statute Veto referendum
2014 57,277 57,277
2013 57,277 57,277
2012 57,277 57,277
2011 57,277 57,277
2010 55,087 55,087
2008 55,087 55,087

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Maine Constitution, Article IV, Part 3, Section 18

Signature filing deadlines

The deadline for filing initiative and referenda signatures was changed in 2006 when Maine Initiative Petition Deadlines Amendment (2006) was approved and added to the Maine Constitution.

For initiatives

The filing deadline for initiative petitions for the November 8, 2011 ballot is January 20, 2011.

According to Article 4, Part Third, Section 18, sub-section 2, the filing deadlines for initiatives are:

  • First Regular Session: By 5:00 p.m. on or before the 50th day after the convening of the Legislature. The first regular session convenes on the first Wednesday of December following the General Election.
  • Second Regular Session: By 5:00 p.m. on or before the 25th day after the convening of the Legislature. The second regular session convenes on the first Wednesday after the first Tuesday in January in the even-numbered year following the General Election.

Although petition sponsors have eighteen months from the time they are authorized to circulate, the above deadlines are their absolute deadline for a given election period. Also, signatures lose their validity if they are dated more than one year prior to the date the petition is officially filed with the Maine Secretary of State.

For referenda

The filing deadline for a people's veto referendum petition is by 5 p.m. on the 90th day after adjournment of the legislative session at which the Act was passed.

Legislative response

Once signatures have been submitted and verified, it is up to the state legislature to consider whether it wishes to enact the proposed legislation without change. The legislature can either then:

  • Enact the initiative exactly as submitted in the initiative.
  • Put the initiative question on the ballot together with any amended form, substitute, or recommendation of the Legislature, and in such manner that the people can choose between the competing measures or reject both.
  • If the legislature doesn't act at all, the proposed initiative is considered as having "died between houses," in which case it is placed on the ballot with no notation as to the legislature's recommendation on it.
  • If the legislature enacts the proposed initiative, but the governor vetoes the enacted legislation, the initiative is then placed on the ballot. (This happened with Maine Question One (2007)).

Restrictions on circulators


See Residency requirements for petition circulators

Under Title 21A, 903-A of the Maine Revised Statutes, "Petitions issued under this chapter may be circulated by any registered voter."

Under the Constitution, Article IV, Part 3, Section 20, a circulator is defined as "a person who solicits signatures for written petitions, and who must be a resident of this State and whose name must appear on the voting list of the city, town or plantation of the circulator's residence as qualified to vote for Governor."


See Pay-per-signature

Maine once had a law that made it illegal to pay circulators based on how many signatures they collected. In 1999 in the case On Our Terms '97 PAC v. Secretary of State of Maine, a federal judge ruled that this law was unconstitutional.[5].

Witnessing signatures

When a circulator submits signatures, he or she must sign an oath "that all of the signatures to the petition were made in the presence of the circulator and that to the best of the circulator's knowledge and belief each signature is the signature of the person whose name it purports to be."

This means that circulators must personally witness each act of signing the petition--they can't leave petitions on a table, and then return later to collect signed petitions, for example.

Signatures on nominating petitions for political candidates in Maine have the same requirement that circulators must personally witness all signatures. In a 2008 case, Maine Democratic Party v. Secretary of State, the Maine Democratic Party successfully challenged the nominating signatures of a candidate for U.S. Senate on the grounds that a circulator swore the required oath that he had witnessed all signatures, when later evidence in a court case established that this was not true.

Signature verification process

Maine has a full certification process under which each signature is individually scrutinized.

Single-subject restriction

Maine has a single-subject rule under which ballot initiatives may only address establishing one subject. A veto referendum may be directed at vetoing a single act already passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor. However, according to the Maine Constitution, Part Third, Section 17, Parts 1, 2 and 3, a citizen's veto may seek to strike down only a portion of an existing law. Thus, a new law would not be needed to replace the existing one, as the referendum, if passed would be allowed to amend the existing law. (This portion of the Maine Constitution also allows the City Council of any city to set up their own procedures for citizen initiatives addressing local government issues.)[6]

Legislative tampering

Main article: Legislative tampering

By common practice, the legislature can both repeal and amend initiatives.

The veto power of the Governor does not extend to citizen initiatives.

Veto referenda

By law, if a veto referendum passes signature verification and is approved to be placed on the ballot, the law or portion of the law that it addresses must be temporarily suspended pending final ballot vote. If the veto is not approved by voters the law or portion of the law goes back into effect. The language of the Constitution, Article IV, Part Third, Section 17, part 2 states "2. Effect of referendum. The effect of any Act, bill, resolve or resolution or part or parts thereof as are specified in such petition shall be suspended upon the filing of such petition. If it is later finally determined, in accordance with any procedure enacted by the Legislature pursuant to the Constitution, that such petition was invalid, such Act, bill, resolve or resolution or part or parts thereof shall then take effect upon the day following such final determination."

Effective date

Unless a given initiative specifically says otherwise, all approved initiatives take effect and become a law in 30 days after the Governor has made public proclamation of the result of the vote on said measure, which the Governor shall do within 10 days after the vote thereon has been canvassed and determined; provided, however, that any such measure which entails expenditure in an amount in excess of available and unappropriated state funds shall remain inoperative until 45 days after the next convening of the Legislature in regular session, unless the measure provides for raising new revenues adequate for its operation.

Ballot committee registration

The 123rd Legislature enacted new amendments to the law, effective June 30th, 2008, defining groups engaged in the advocacy of ballot questions or veto initiatives who are not registered PACs as "Ballot Question Committees."Any group raising over $5,000 who is engaged in ballot advocacy must register and report donated funds targeted for this advocacy. Forms for all registration requirements and information on who needs to file are available at the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Practices website.[7]. The full text of the new law is posted on the Legislature's public site.[8].

Proposed changes


Changes in 2011 to laws governing ballot measures

Bills that have or might be introduced in the 2011 session of the Maine State Legislature include:


Changes in 2010 to laws governing ballot measures

The following proposals were made during the 2009-2010 session of the Maine Legislature:


Changes in 2009 to laws governing the initiative process
  • In the 2009 legislative session, Representative Mark Bryant sponsored "An Act to Promote the Integrity of Citizens’ Initiatives" (HP0023, LD 28) as emergency legislation to require petition gathers to be registered voters in the state.[9] On February 12, LD 28 was killed in the Maine Joint Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee.[10]
  • Representative Emily Cain, D-Orono, is sponsoring "An Act to Modify the Citizen Initiative Process," which would attach fiscal impact statements to citizen-led initiative questions. Cain says, "Voters need to understand" how much an initiative would cost, if it were enacted. Dan Billings of Maine Leads says the proposed bill is unconstitutional.[11]

Campaign finance

Main article: Campaign finance requirements for Maine ballot measures

Some of the notable features of Maine's campaign finance laws include:

  • Maine treats committees in support or opposition of a ballot question the same as other political committees.
  • Maine requires individuals who raise or spend $5,000 in support or opposition of a ballot measure to register as a committee.
  • Maine requires all contributions of $500 or more in the last thirteen days before the election to be reported within 24 hours.
  • Maine requires full disclosure of paid campaign staffers.

External links