AUGUSTA — Sometimes the Legislature deals with big issues, such as health care, crime and taxation.

And sometimes it deals with how to stop voters from facing more than one Question 1 on the ballot.

A measure before the Committee on State and Local Government would require municipalities to list local ballot questions with “sequential capital letters of the alphabet rather than sequential numbers” to avoid confusion with state ballot questions that are always numbered.

Lewiston City Clerk Kathy Montejo testified in favor of the change this week because having two or more ballots using the same question number in the same election “can become confusing to the voters, especially in advance of Election Day while they are trying to do their research” on the issues.

It is a problem that does occasionally happen.

Sen. Heather Sanborn, D-Portland, told the committee that in 2017 in Portland, voters were told to vote no on a local Question 2 by local affordable housing advocates and to support a statewide Question 2 to expand Medicaid.

It led to avoidable confusion, she said.

State law mandates that local and state ballot questions be listed on the ballot with sequential numbers drawn at random. Switching the local referenda to a lettered system instead would be “a simple, common-sense solution to that problem,” Sanborn said.

Polly Ward, a representative of the League of Women Voters of Maine, said her nonpartisan group strongly backs the bill as a good solution to a demonstrated problem.

“When voters are faced with both state and local referenda in the same election, the identical designations of Question 1, Question 2 and so on inevitably cause some degree of confusion,” Ward said.

“By simply changing local referenda designations to Question A, Question B and so forth, this confusion is completely eliminated,” she said, and both supporters and opponents of every ballot question “will be able to more clearly communicate with voters, and voters will benefit from clarity both during the campaign and while in the voting booth.”

Montejo suggested a revision to the bill to allow municipalities to continue to use numbers on local ballot issues as long as there is not a state question on the same ballot.

The Maine Municipal Association said towns and cities should have the option to use either letters or numbers for their own ballot initiatives and referenda.

Among the backers of the proposal: Sens. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, and Ned Claxton, D-Auburn. Claxton is the Senate chairman of the committee reviewing the measure.

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Lewiston City Clerk Kathy Montejo (Sun Journal file photo)


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