AUGUSTA (AP) – Want to have an official say on a Maine referendum question, even before mailing off an absentee ballot or heading to your voting place in November?

There is one more day – Tuesday – to do so.

State election officials say that for the first time, for $500, any individual, corporation, political action committee or other organization can submit comments in favor of or in opposition to a ballot question in hopes of having those comments included in a state-published Citizen’s Guide to the Referendum Election.

The guide, published in written form and on the secretary of state’s Web site, will include up to three comments in favor of each ballot measure and three opposed.

Submissions are selected according to the order in which they are filed – first in, first on. The filing deadline is Tuesday at 5 p.m.

The new program offers opportunities to comment on citizen initiatives, people’s veto referendums, constitutional resolutions and bond issues.

There will be two questions on the Nov. 7 ballot, led by the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights proposal.

Question 1 is a citizen initiative asking: “Do you want to limit increases in state and local government spending to the rate of inflation plus population growth and to require voter approval for all tax and fee increases?”

Question 2 is a proposed constitutional amendment with voters being asked, “Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to state that a citizens’ initiative or people’s veto petition must be submitted to local or state officials by the constitutional deadline in order to be certified and, in the case of a citizens’ initiative, must be filed with the Secretary of State within 18 months?”

Unlike at a legislative hearing, there is no option for those submitting public comments to make a “neither for nor against” presentation.

Comments may not exceed 300 words and no pictures or graphics will be accepted for publication, according to extensive rules adopted to implement a law enacted two years ago as An Act to Increase Access to Information regarding Referendum Questions.

“The secretary of state shall reject any public comments submitted which:

A. Contain any obscene, profane or defamatory language;

B. Incite or advocate hatred, abuse or violence toward any person or group; or

C. Contain any language which may not legally be circulated through the mails,” according to a summary of the rules.

There is no exemption from civil or criminal action for defamatory statements, according to the secretary of state.

The citizen’s guide will include a disclaimer, declaring that publication of a public comment does not constitute an endorsement by the state of Maine and that the state does not vouch for the accuracy or truth of such comments.

“We’re not going to edit them or do any research … Basically, we’ll just print them,” Melissa Packard, the state director of elections, said Monday.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said his office was just implementing a law approved by the Legislature.

Under the rules, public comments will be presented under an explanatory statement of a ballot question prepared by the state attorney general and an estimate of its potential financial impact prepared by the Legislature’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review.

As of Monday morning, the secretary of state had received two submissions expressing opposition to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights proposal, Packard said – one from the Southern Maine Emergency Medical Services Council and one from AARP of Maine.

AP-ES-08-28-06 1531EDT

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