An effort by residents of a Casco Bay island to secede from Maine’s largest city appears to have failed.

Residents of Great Diamond Island fell three signatures short of kick-starting the secession effort, the Portland City Clerk’s Office said.

“This isn’t going to stop the process,” said Matt Hoffner, co-chair of the Great Diamond Island Exploratory Committee, which led the secession effort.

City Clerk Katherine Jones said in a letter to the petitioners Thursday that they needed 50 valid signatures – a majority of the 98 registered voters on the island. However, the city staff could verify only 48 names on the 50-person petition.

“Therefore, the petition is deemed insufficient,” Jones wrote.

Hoffner said his group has asked the city to confirm the registration status of all 98 people on the city database. He wants to make sure that figure does not include people who have moved off the island years ago or passed away. And he wants to make sure the city is only counting Great Diamond Island residents, since the city’s database lumps all of the islands together.


“These are the verification issues that he we would like to make sure are properly vetted,” Hoffner said Friday. “I believe something has fallen through the cracks.”

The petitioners originally estimated there to be only 75 registered voters on the island, but Jones said Friday that city records show 98 registered voters. She said one person on the petition was not registered to vote and another person was listed twice.

Hoffner said his group will make another effort to get 50 signatures if the city confirms that the island has 98 registered voters.

Under state law, the petition would have required island residents and city officials to meet in an effort to resolve differences before a vote on secession could be held. Even then, the Maine Legislature would have the final say before secession could occur.

Islanders said that they were pursuing secession because they do not feel they are getting the requisite amount of city services in exchange for the $2 million they contribute in property taxes annually.

“The feeling among residents is that this is more than just a money issue, it truly is a cultural difference between the needs and priorities of a large city and the needs and priorities of a small island community,” Hoffner said in an Aug. 15 statement.


The Exploratory Committee, formed in late 2018, identified 12 issues that islanders are concerned about, ranging from the lack of parking and short-term docking space in Portland to road maintenance on the island, the need for full-time EMTs during the summer months, the lack of representation in Portland, and the level of taxation imposed by the city.

Hoffner said that there are more than 300 summer or seasonal residents living on Great Diamond Island, and roughly 65 year-round residents. There are two distinct island communities, located at each end of the island. Diamond Cove is a private, residential community and the Village side of the island is public.

“GDI is a unique community of year-round, but mostly summer, residents who require very little from a city in terms of municipal services,” the Exploratory Committee said. “The needs of urban neighborhoods in Portland, compared to our small summer community are divergent and uneven. As time has progressed, the disparity has increased.”

Great Diamond Island is the second island to try – and fail – to secede from Portland in the last decade.

Peaks Island residents have tried to break away from Portland on several occasions. Their most recent secession effort was rejected by the Legislature in 2011.

Other island communities have been successful in their secession bids.


Long Island officially seceded from Portland on July 1, 1993, becoming Maine’s 490th town.

And in 2007, Chebeague Island seceded from the town of Cumberland.

Great Diamond Island’s effort is the second unsuccessful petition effort during this election cycle.

Fair Election Portland fell 76 signatures short of the number it needed to ask residents to expand ranked-choice voting to all City Council and Board of Education races. But the group is asking the City Council to place the question on the March ballot.

Ranked-choice voting has been used in Portland’s mayoral elections since 2011.

In a ranked-choice election, voters rank the candidates in order of preference. If no one wins a majority after the first tally, election officials eliminate the last-place finisher and redistribute that candidate’s votes based on each voter’s second-choice ranking. This process continues – with non-viable candidates being eliminated from the bottom up and their votes reallocated – until someone hits the magic threshold of 50 percent plus one vote.

Fair Elections Portland, however, was successful in securing enough signatures to ask voters this fall if they would like establish a clean elections program that would limit private fundraising for candidates that opt to use public money for political campaigns.

The proposal could establish a program similar to one used by state legislative and gubernatorial candidates, who have to collect a certain amount of small donations before qualifying for public funding for their campaigns.

The referendum does not include details, including the amount of financing that should be made available to candidates in district or at-large races. Those details would be left up to the City Council, which would have to have a program up and running by 2021.

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