Mainers got a chance this spring to choose a flag to commemorate the state’s bicentennial, coming next year.

But in a perplexing move, the design that got the whole thing going was nowhere to be seen.

That design was the 1901 original state flag, a simple, clean and striking layout that features a green pine tree and blue North Star against a buff-colored background.

It’s a design that has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years as more people have had a chance to see it, and see how favorably it compares to the bland and messy state seal-dominated flag we all know.

Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, liked it enough to suggest it be made the new state flag in a bill introduced this year. We agreed, as did many others.

A legislative committee was not as eager to make such a sudden and dramatic change, so it instead asked the Secretary of State’s Office to design a flag for the state’s upcoming 200th birthday.


In picking the design, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said he would lean heavily on public input. Most people who cared about the 1901 flag assumed it would be given consideration.

Dunlap felt differently. Three designs were offered up for a (non-binding) public poll, and frankly they ranged from forgettable to perplexing.

Maine bicentennial flag designs Courtesy of the Maine Secretary of State’s Office

One looks a lot like the bicentennial license plate that Maine drivers can now get. Another, designed by Dunlap himself to be tri-colored with the Dirigo star, could be for anything.

The third, submitted by a Portland resident but altered slightly by Dunlap —was no one else available? — just makes you shake your head. It’s obviously inspired by the 1901 flag, but it loses what draws people to that design.

It has the striking pine tree from the 1901 flag, but only about two-thirds of it on the right side. The Secretary of State’s Office says it’s like you’re “inside the forest looking out.” It looks more like the tree is sliding off the page.

Dunlap’s office says he didn’t include the 1901 flag as one of the choices because he felt that if the committee had wanted to use that flag, legislators would have said so.


Maybe. Or maybe they just wanted someone else to choose it, and Dunlap had promised he would reach out to the people who should make such a decision — the people of Maine, or at least those who choose to take an online poll. (I mean, it’s a bicentennial flag — we don’t need a referendum.)

But Dunlap flubbed it. He personally took a hand in designing two of the choices, and the third is hardly a design at all. The one design that a large group of Mainers had shown support for was left off altogether.

At least the secretary of state went along with the online voting and chose the people’s favorite as the bicentennial flag.

That turned out to be the bastardized version of the 1901 flag, which dominated the polling with 59 percent. We’re left to wonder how many votes the original version would have received.

Is it a big deal? No. Will any of the flags do? Sure.

But if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it right.

Maybe we take solace in the fact that Dunlap, who has been so good at overseeing voting when it really matters, only dropped the ball when it really didn’t.

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