Proposed “people’s vetoes” of several measures adopted by the Maine Legislature this year are generating more uncertainty than usual after the secretary of state reinterpreted the law governing referendum questions and told petitioners they would go on the ballot in March instead of June, as he had originally said.

The initiatives include efforts to overturn laws banning “conversion therapy” on gay and lesbian people, restore restrictions on performing abortions and require insurers to cover them, and block a law legalizing medically assisted suicide.

Exactly when they will go to voters, assuming supporters gather enough signatures, is not set in stone.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap originally told petitioners, incorrectly, that if they gather enough signatures, the people’s veto referendum questions would go on the June ballot. But state law requires that the questions go on the ballot for the next statewide election, which would be the March primary.

The primary, however, is the subject of another people’s veto effort. If enough signatures are gathered to put that question on the ballot, the law that created the March primary would be on hold until Mainers vote on that referendum question and others in June.

Petitioners need to gather more than 63,000 signatures by mid-September for each of the people’s veto measures to get them on the ballot in March. Petitioners will miss their chance to get on the November ballot because the deadline for getting the ballot to the printer is Sept. 6.


June is the traditional date for election primaries and some referendum questions in Maine.

Some of those supporting the people’s veto efforts are upset about that, because they believe the presidential primary would disproportionately draw Democratic voters to the polls. President Trump has one challenger for the Republican nomination – former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld – but it’s not clear if Maine Republicans will even hold a presidential primary in early 2020.

If not, the crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates may be the principal attraction on the ballot, resulting in a turnout of liberal voters less likely to support the people’s veto positions on abortion, assisted suicide and other questions.

“We certainly understand the concern, but our office doesn’t have the discretion to change the date,” said Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office.

Jack McCarthy of Woodland, listed as the lead petitioner for most of the people’s veto efforts, said he is weighing his options. There are a dozen people’s veto measures with petitions circulating, although most of the effort is concentrated on the conversion therapy, abortion and assisted suicide petitions.

McCarthy said Friday he doesn’t blame Dunlap for initially telling him that the measures would be voted on next June.


“He’s taking the fall for the Marxists in the Legislature,” McCarthy said.

Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said the decision on the timing of the people’s veto measures “is another in a long line of debacles in recent years related to Maine’s elections.”

The party also opposed the state’s ranked-choice voting system, which Maine voters adopted in 2016. A lawsuit by the Republican Party to block its use last year failed.

Savage said Friday that Dunlap’s guidance on the timing of the referendum votes “created a confusing and unfair mess.”

“We will be looking to untangle some of the chaos caused by Secretary Dunlap’s incorrect guidance over the next few days,” Savage said, although he didn’t explain what that might involve.

Alex Stack, spokesman for Maine Democrats, said the party hasn’t taken a position on the timing of people’s veto votes. The March primary was supported by most Democrats in the Legislature, but attracted few Republican votes. It will make Maine part of the Super Tuesday balloting, when 15 states will hold primary elections.

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