Dueling Maine flags: A stylized version of the original, left, which some are advocating be adopted, and the current flag, which bears the Maine state seal. Courtesy photo, left, and photo by Fred J. Field, right

Residents will have to wait until next year to vote on whether they want ditch the current state flag and replace it with a design based on the state’s original 1901 flag.

Lawmakers wrapped up the session early Wednesday morning, casting final votes a slew of bills to send to the governor. Among them was a high-profile proposal that would ask voters if they wanted to restore a version of the original Maine flag, which features a pine tree on a beige field and blue star.

A spokesperson for Gov. Janet Mills said the governor will allow the bill to become law – a move that will effectively delay the referendum for a year because of a quirk in Maine’s Constitution.

“The Maine State flag is an important part of our state’s identity and culture, and the governor believes it is appropriate for the people of Maine to decide whether it should be changed,” Ben Goodman said in a written statement.

“Rather than sign the bill and rush the question to ballot in little more than three months, she will allow the bill to become law – which means, barring any other legislative action, it will take effect next year and the question will be put to voters in November 2024 – to allow time for robust public debate and discussion on all sides of the issue.”

Normally, when the Legislature is in session, the governor has 10 days to sign or veto a bill or it becomes law without her signature. Unless passed as emergency legislation, the law would take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns for the session.


But because lawmakers voted early Wednesday to adjourn until the second regular session begins in January, the governor is limited to signing the remaining bills into law, if she wishes to do so. The state constitution says that if she wants to veto a bill or let one become law without her signature she must wait until lawmakers return.

When they return, the governor has three days to issue vetoes or allow leftover bills to become law without her signature. Bills in the latter category would not be effective until 90 days after the end of the next session.

Lawmakers have made several attempts in recent years to restore the 1901 state flag, although the efforts have all failed. The original flag was used until 1909, when the Legislature adopted the current flag featuring the state seal on a blue field. The seal consists of a moose resting under a pine tree flanked by a farmer and seaman.

Historians say this was the original design of the 1901 Maine state flag.

But this year, a bill, L.D. 86, sponsored by former Rep. Sean Paulhus, D-Bath, squeaked through both chambers of the Legislature after passionate debate about the state’s heritage and after some questioned which version of the 1901 flag voters would be considering.

There are at least two different designs being considered – one created by the Maine Flag Co. that has proven popular on the market and another design that historians say is more consistent with the original flag.

This design is used by the Maine Flag Company.

The Portland-based Maine Flag Co. has popularized a version that features a stylized pine tree on a tan field with a blue star in the upper left corner. Another design featured in products made by the Skowhegan-based Maine Stitching Specialties is more like what historians say was the original version. It contains a more realistic-looking pine tree with roots against a tan backdrop with a blue star in the upper corner.

The bill requires Secretary of State Shenna Bellow to sign off on a design for voters to consider. Bellows has said she plans to form an advisory group that would include lawmakers from both parties, as well as experts in vexillology – the study of flags – and related fields to guide her decision.

Paulhus said Wednesday he wasn’t bothered by the delay, which will give the secretary of state more time to select a design and for voters to consider the proposed change.

“It gives more time for the public to look at this,” he said. “I think either way it’s still good for the people of Maine to vote and express their opinion on it.”

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