Portland activists will submit thousands of signatures Friday in support of two ballot initiatives related to local election reform.

One initiative would create a municipally funded clean elections program. The other would extend ranked-choice voting to all school board and City Council races. The Fair Elections Portland campaign announced Thursday they have collected more than 8,000 signatures for each initiative, and the organizers will present their petitions at Portland City Hall on Friday to be certified.

The effort is organized by Democracy Maine, a partnership between Maine Citizens for Clean Elections and the League of Women Voters of Maine. Anna Kellar, executive director of Democracy Maine, said more than 100 volunteers helped collect signatures in recent months. The city clerk will certify the signatures within 20 days, and then the City Council will formally vote to put the questions on the ballot.

“We’ve really been hearing overwhelmingly that people want local elections to be local, to be not about how much money is spent, and that everyday residents of the city should be able to run and serve,” Kellar said.

Each initiative required 6,816 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Set by state law, that number is 20 percent of the city’s turnout in the last gubernatorial election, which was higher last year than it was in 2014.

Kellar said some people had questions about how the local clean elections program would be funded or about which races already use ranked-choice voting.


“Our focus moving forward is about voter education and making sure we’re reaching different parts of the city,” Kellar said.

If passed, the ballot initiative for local clean elections funding would not immediately establish a specific program or allocate a certain amount of money for one. Instead, Kellar said it would create a mandate for the city to create one and have public funds available for candidates in 2021. The City Council would then study different options for the city, whether that is a mirror of the clean elections program for state races or another model.

“We’re trying to have the best of both worlds of the referendum process and the deliberative legislative process through the City Council,” Kellar said.

In state races, clean elections candidates may collect seed money before becoming clean elections certified. Candidates may accept up to $100 from an individual donor. The maximum amount of seed money that can be collected by a House candidate is $1,000. Senate candidates can collect up to $3,000 and a gubernatorial candidate can collect up to $200,000.

Candidates must demonstrate community support by collecting qualifying donations of at least $5 from voters in their districts. House candidates need at least 60 qualifying contributions, Senate candidates need 175 and gubernatorial candidates need 3,200.

House candidates may received up to $1,500 for an uncontested general election and up to $15,000 for a contested general election. And Senate candidates can receive up to $6,000 for an uncontested general election and up to $60,000 for a contested general election.


In recent years, some City Council candidates have raised over $20,000, while mayoral candidates have raised more than $100,000. A local clean elections program would allow candidates for municipal office to receive an allocation from the general fund, which is funded through property taxes. Kellar said Fair Elections Portland believes the program could be established with $200,000 per year.

Ranked-choice voting has been used in Portland’s mayoral election since 2011. It was used for the first time in gubernatorial, legislative and federal primaries last year. It was also used last year in the general election for federal offices, but not for state-level races, which the Maine Constitution says are decided by a plurality.

A city spokeswoman said no Portland employees were prepared to comment on the two proposals Thursday.

In the past, City Manager Jon Jennings has warned of potential costs to taxpayers associated with a local clean elections program.

“The effort to require a clean elections process at the municipal level will lead to the further crowding out of necessary and core functions of municipal government,” Jennings said. “There is a limited amount of revenue to pave streets, fix sidewalks and address critical needs in our community unless the proponents of this effort believe taxes should be increased to develop and maintain a city clean elections program.”

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