Election Day has nearly arrived, and the bitter presidential race isn’t the only history that will be made Tuesday.
Mainers will vote on five referendum questions placed on the state ballot through citizen petition drives, the most ever in a Maine election. Voters will decide whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, raise the minimum wage, require background checks for private gun purchases, change the way future elections are decided and add a tax surcharge to help finance public education.
There will be plenty of other decisions to be made, too. Every seat in the Maine Legislature is up for grabs on Tuesday, and a $100 million transportation bond will live or die depending on the judgment of Maine voters.
And communities across the state will settle municipal and school races and ballot questions that range from a competitive City Council race in Portland to school construction projects in Westbrook and Cumberland.
Polls open Tuesday morning across the state.
Voting begins at various times depending on the community, but polls open at 7 or 8 a.m. in the vast majority of cities and towns. All Maine polls will close at 8 p.m.
More information on all the decisions facing Maine voters Tuesday can be found at pressherald.com/politics. Get to know your legislative candidates and find out where they stand on the issues at pressherald.com/candidates.
Here is a closer look at the five citizen-initiated referendum proposals.
Question 1 – Marijuana legalization
“Do you want to allow the possession and use of marijuana under state law by persons who are at least 21 years of age, and allow the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?”
Supporters, who include the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, more than a dozen state legislators and many members of Maine’s medical marijuana industry, say legalizing marijuana for adult use would take the cannabis industry out of the black market, generate millions of dollars in tax revenue and allow law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes.
Opponents, including Gov. Paul LePage, top law enforcement officials and some medical marijuana caregivers, say it would increase youth access to the drug, bring big marijuana businesses from out of state to Maine and potentially negatively affect the state’s medical marijuana program.
Listen to a podcast of our editorial board’s meeting with supporters of both sides of Question 1.
Question 2 – Education surcharge
“Do you want to add a 3 percent tax on individual Maine taxable income above $200,000 to create a state fund that would provide direct support for student learning in kindergarten through 12th grade public education?”
Supporters say the money will go to a special fund run by the state Department of Education, can only be spent on direct support for students and will guarantee the state pays for 55 percent of the cost of K-12 education.
Opponents say it will make Maine’s top tax rate the second highest in the nation and drive away top earners and businesses.
Question 3 – Background checks
“Do you want to require background checks prior to the sale or transfer of firearms between individuals not licensed as firearms dealers, with failure to do so punishable by law, and with some exceptions for family members, hunting, self-defense, lawful competitions, and shooting range activity?”
Supporters, who include the group Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership as well as organizations such as the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, say the initiative is needed to close a private sales loophole that allows criminals, the mentally ill or domestic abusers to purchase guns without first passing a background check.
Opponents, such as the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and a majority of the state’s elected county sheriffs, argue that the measure will not stop criminals intent on purchasing a firearm but will only pose additional burdens on hunters and other law-abiding gun owners.
Listen to a podcast of our editorial board’s meeting with supporters of both sides of Question 3.
Question 4 – Minimum wage
“Do you want to raise the minimum hourly wage of $7.50 to $9 in 2017, with annual $1 increases up to $12 in 2020, and annual cost-of-living increases thereafter; and do you want to raise the direct wage for service workers who receive tips from half the minimum wage to $5 in 2017, with annual $1 increases until it reaches the adjusted minimum wage?”
Proponents, including the Maine People’s Alliance, Maine AFL-CIO and Maine Small Business Coalition, say the measure is a long-needed antidote to stagnant wages, forcing the hand of lawmakers who have not raised Maine’s minimum wage of $7.50 an hour since 2009.
Opponents, including the Maine Restaurant Association, Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Maine Heritage Policy Center, say it represents heavy-handed regulation that will hobble small businesses and make the battle for new hires even more intense as Maine’s labor pool shrinks.
Question 5 – Ranked-choice voting
“Do you want to allow voters to rank their choices of candidates in elections for U.S. Senate, Congress, Governor, State Senate, and State Representative, and to have ballots counted at the state level in multiple rounds in which last-place candidates are eliminated until a candidate wins by majority?”
Supporters of the change say ranking candidate choices gives voters more say in elections while requiring candidates to moderate their positions, creating a more civil and functioning political system.
Opponents include Maine’s Gov. Paul LePage, who has lambasted the ballot question, saying that it would be against the state’s constitution, which calls for winners of an election to be chosen by a plurality of the vote.
Opponents also say the switch would be costly to implement while leading to increased recount requests.
Listen to a podcast of our editorial board’s meeting with supporters of both sides of Question 5.
Question 6 – State infrastructure
“Do you favor a $100,000,000 bond issue for construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of highways and bridges and for facilities, equipment and property acquisition related to ports, harbors, marine transportation, freight and passenger railroads, aviation, transit and bicycle and pedestrian trails, to be used to match an estimated $137,000,000 in federal and other funds?”