November 17, 2019

A Bill To Change Signature Gathering Process for Referendums

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Hot off the latest vote by anti human groups to ban all things normal, a bill is being proposed in the Maine Legislature that would change the process of how signatures are gathered in order to petition the state to get placement of referendum questions on the ballot. At issue, for some, is the so-called loophole that allows for out-of-state persons to effectively gather signatures, even though Maine law says signature gatherers must be Maine residents.

The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine is supporting the bill. Executive director David Trahan says, “Just the fact that any group in the world could come in and cut a check and get their issue on the ballot,” Trahan said, “that should send a chill down everyone’s back in the state of Maine.”

According to an article in the Central Maine edition of the Morning Sentinel, the text of the bill, not yet released, would:

…clarify state law to say only Mainers can ask for signatures during citizen initiative and people’s veto drives, processes that allow citizens to make and repeal laws, respectively.

It would also make paid signature-gatherers for initiatives register with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. While gathering signatures, they would have to wear a badge that says their name, residence and who’s paying them. They would also have to tell the state what they’re paid and how many signatures they gather. Violating the new provisions would be a misdemeanor crime.

Some opposed to the bill say it isn’t necessary and tramples on the First Amendment.

Secretary of State, Matt Dunlop, says that he, “…don’t think there’s anything wrong with transparency.”

The difficulty, most always, with bill proposals to change and/or increase governmental regulation is all too often people fail to realize that laws created swing in both directions and place the same limits on everyone. While a bill today might seem to solve a problem of today, what happens tomorrow when the tide turns?

As with the proposals that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) should not be allowed to actively support or oppose citizen referendums, calling for transparency should be welcomed but a ban should not. Voters must know a department’s position and why. And yes, that door swings in two directions also.

I understand the call for preventing entities from outside the state from taking over the processes and priorities of the Maine people. An opponent of this bill proposal, a person who worked to collect signatures for the late bear referendum, called the bill, “a cowardly way to attack the initiative process.” He further explained that it was his belief that those who signed the petitions were more important than the process and that added restrictions drives up the cost of placing citizen initiatives on the ballot.

I’m not sure I would go so far as to call the bill proposal cowardly, as there is merit in claiming that the signature is more important than the process, providing that the process is legal and ethical and the gathering of signatures actually is a reflection of the citizenry as a whole.

When professional signature gatherers are paid, sometimes handsomely, to garner signatures, what happens to the process of approaching voters for their interest in the issue, especially if being paid an amount for each signature retrieved? There’s a good chance that the signatures do not represent the citizenry as a whole. Wasn’t the establishment of gathering signatures in the amount of a percentage of the last election intended to be a reflection of issues that would appear important enough to the people of Maine or any other state, to place a ballot initiative?

When signature gathering becomes a matter of enough funding to pay enough people ample money to harvest signatures, isn’t this a bastardization of the Initiative process? Can we then, with a straight face, say that the signature is more important than the process?

We might draw two examples that could provide reasonable substantiation of those wishing to change the process. Twice the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) brought a referendum against bear hunting and trapping to Maine – 2004 and 2014. Twice that referendum was defeated but not until after hours and hours of time and gobs of money were spent by both sides. After ten years of debates about bears and bear management, HSUS, able to buy the necessary number of signatures got their initiative on the ballot. Think of the large expenditures, on both sides and for what purpose? Evidently right now that purpose is a couple of proposals to change the laws in which both sides think it might “better the process”, perhaps better explained as increasing their chances of winning next time.

This has become part of the political process whether we like it or not. As with the bear referendum and the debates we were all subjected to, once again voters are being subjected to the same process, both sides wishing to make tougher laws. And when tougher laws are enacted, the people lose.

The people ALWAYS lose!

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